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Capitol Police Chief Says New Radio System Is Top Priority

Even though the Capitol Police didn’t officially request funds for a new radio communications system in its fiscal 2008 budget proposal, Chief Phillip Morse told lawmakers this morning that replacing the department’s outdated technology is his No. 1 priority.

Speaking at a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, Morse said replacing the 20-year-old system would cost about $35 million and take up to three years to complete. The department didn’t request funding for it this year, however, in part because it is focusing on realigning personnel, Morse said.

“We went in and said, ‘What do we need?’” Morse said. “We want to make sure we can operate with what we have.”

The department instead requested $11 million to maintain its current system. Money to replace the system would need to come from Congress, because the department, as a federal agency, is not eligible for federal grant money, said Assistant Chief Daniel Nichols, who also testified at the hearing.

“What’s that? For band-aids and tape and stuff?” subcommittee ranking member Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said of the current request, adding that Members should look into writing to the Department of Homeland Security to see if some money might be made available.

“9/11 communication was an absolute joke,” LaHood recalled. “We were all standing on the lawn, twiddling our thumbs, looking for airplanes.”

Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said that while replacing the radio system is an obvious need, she is concerned that giving the department a new system would hinder its progress toward fixing its financial management, which the Government Accountability Office said in a November 2005 report was in “crisis mode.”

“If you infuse a brand new system that requires time and attention and resources, that would shift your attention from the need to get out of crisis mode,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Morse said the department has made progress since the release of the report, including providing training and education in addition to bringing in new personnel to clean things up.

“The foundation has been set,” Morse said. “We must, and will, get our management challenges in order.”

Wasserman Schultz and LaHood did praise the department for choosing to spend the next year studying how best to use the officers it has instead of asking for more personnel, a trademark of past Capitol Police budget requests.

“We want to make sure we are leveraging the personnel we have and using it in the most important manner,” Nichols said.

Added Morse: “We know we are doing a good job, because the Capitol has not been attacked. … What we want to do is make things as efficient impossible.”

For fiscal 2008, the department requested no new sworn officers for the Capitol complex, but rather 30 civilian personnel to fill voids left by sworn officers who have been put back into the field, Morse said.

Priorities for those civilian voids include seven spots in the department’s Security Services Bureau, which studies how police can better work with other Capitol departments, such as the Architect of the Capitol, Morse said.

That bureau will be especially important as the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center draws closer, Morse added.

The department also requested an additional 10 officers for the Library of Congress. Pending final approval of a long-planned merger, the Capitol Police is responsible for filling any openings that occur within in the LOC Police.

LaHood also asked Morse when he expects an official report will be released on an incident in September 2006 when an armed intruder broke into the CVC construction site and then entered the Capitol.

That report is complete and has been sent to the Capitol Police Board, Morse said, adding he is not sure when or if the board will release it.

LaHood urged that the study be released, if only to Members.

“Obviously, everybody was shocked this happened, especially with this type of security around,” LaHood added.

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