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Secretary Plans Web, Continuity Upgrades

In making her budget pitch to appropriators last week, Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson laid out her top goals: increasing Senate services available online and upping preparations to ensure the continuity of government.

Testifying at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, Erickson told Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and ranking member Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) that the bulk of her $25.5 million budget request for fiscal 2008 would go to staff salaries, money that will allow the office to get and keep employees to meet those goals.

Similar to most Congressional offices and agencies, the Secretary’s office has not been able to fund all of its annual salary and merit increases this fiscal year because the continuing resolution now in effect kept spending flat. So her request — about an 11 percent increase over fiscal 2007 — merely brings salaries to where they should be, she explained.

“This request will enable us to continue to attract and retain talented and dedicated individuals to serve the needs of the United States Senate,” Erickson testified.

About $23.5 million would go directly to salary costs, Erickson said.

Staffers in the Secretary’s office do work that benefits the entire chamber, she added. Erickson oversees an eclectic mix of people, from the clerks who collect and record the chamber’s legislative activities to the people who make sure everybody gets their paychecks on time to those who decide the art that gets hung on the Senate walls.

The overall goal is to make sure the chamber runs smoothly, and one thing Erickson will focus on is ensuring that if a terrorist attack or natural disaster happened on Capitol Hill, her office would be able to get the Senate up and running as soon as possible, she said.

“I hope we never become complacent in our planning,” Erickson added.

Right now, essential operations of the chamber could begin 12 to 24 hours after a major incident, Erickson wrote in testimony presented to the panel.

In the past year, the Secretary’s office has updated its plans for the Leadership Coordination Center, which would help leaders respond to an incident, as well as the Office of the Secretary’s Emergency Operations Center, which would oversee emergency activity following a major disaster.

The Secretary and the Sergeant-at-Arms also have developed a joint program to facilitate writing and maintaining continuity of operations and emergency preparations, Erickson said, adding that she hopes to increase those efforts this year.

“The central mission of the Office of the Secretary is to provide the legislative, financial and administrative support required for the conduct of Senate business,” Erickson wrote. “Our emergency preparedness programs are designed to ensure that the Senate can carry out its Constitutional functions under any circumstances.”

On other fronts, the office’s payroll section, which maintains the Human Resources Management System and oversees processing, verifying and warehousing of all payroll information, conducted disaster recovery testing last year, Erickson testified.

Landrieu praised Erickson for her efforts, saying that in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, such preparations must be a priority.

But the Secretary’s office also is in charge of much of the Senate’s day-to-day operations, and Erickson hopes to make things a little bit easier for staffers by making more information and services available online, she said., which received more than 6 million visitors a month in 2006, could be reorganized to make it easier to navigate, particularly for staffers.

On the Senate intranet, Erickson hopes to introduce a paperless voucher system that would allow Senate workers to order office supplies online from the Stationery Room, she said.

The Senate Gift Shop also will increase its online ordering abilities and other features on the intranet this year. The Senate Library’s site will be redesigned, and new cataloging software will be added, among other improvements.

And the curator will complete a reorganization of the Senate art Web site, including working with the Senate Historical Office and Senate Page School to develop a special Web exhibit on the history of Senate art for high school students.

Meanwhile, the Secretary’s office is in the midst of overseeing a payroll study of Senate offices to ensure Senate pay remains competitive, Erickson said. About 1,100 employees are involved in the study, which began in January.

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