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OOC, Police Clean Up in Fiscal ’08 Spending Bill

Congressional safety and security-enforcement agencies were the big winners in the House version of the fiscal 2008 legislative branch spending bill, which was passed by the Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday and sent to the full panel for consideration.

The House bill, which by tradition does not include Senate funds, provides $3.1 billion for the legislative branch, an increase of $122 million, or 4.1 percent, over fiscal 2007 levels, adjusted to include the recently passed supplemental spending bill.

The Office of Compliance — which enforces health and safety standards and anti-discrimination laws in the legislative branch — and the Capitol Police are targeted for large increases in the House bill. If the measure is upheld by the full committee and makes it through conference with the Senate, the OOC would receive an additional $700,000 in fiscal 2008, an increase of 22.7 percent. The police would get a $30.4 million increase, which works out to 11.9 percent over the current funding level.

“This bill prioritizes the safety of the Capitol, its work force and its visitors while increasing oversight and practicing fiscal responsibility,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch.

A large portion of the additional funding granted to the OOC is targeted for the enforcement of health and safety standards in the aging underground utility tunnels that run beneath the Capitol complex. An OOC complaint filed early last year recently led to a settlement agreement that gives the Architect of the Capitol five years to abate the many hazards, including dangerous heat and asbestos levels, that exist in the tunnels.

Coincidentally on Wednesday, just hours before the markup, an AOC contractor was removed from the tunnels and taken to the Office of the Attending Physician after suffering from heat stress, according to an AOC spokeswoman. The contractor, who works for URS Corp., was treated and later released.

About $5 million of the police department’s increase is targeted for upgrades to the agency’s radio system, which officials and union representatives have complained are not interoperable with other police and emergency response agencies in the city.

The budget for the House itself came to about $1.2 billion and included a 4.7 percent increase in Members’ Representational Allowances funding.

In addition, $16 million was included for safety and security enhancements at the old Food and Drug Administration building, located across the street from the Ford House Office Building, which House officials have said they would like to convert into new work space for the chamber’s committee staff.

Meanwhile, $30 million is included in the bill for election-year activities such as construction costs for inaugural events and security expenses for Members during the Democratic and Republican conventions.

The spending measure grants $348 million to the AOC, an increase of $15.7 million (4.7 percent) over current levels. That amount is $46 million below acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers’ request but does include $20 million in funding that the agency sought to complete the next step in the construction of the Capitol Visitor Center. An additional $7.5 million is included for CVC operational costs.

The House also included language to establish a statutory inspector general at the AOC and grant the new office seven full-time employees. Appropriators had attempted to create the post in the fiscal 2007 bill before the measure was scrapped for the continuing resolution. On Wednesday, Wasserman Schultz said the new post was needed because the AOC “is one of the most mismanaged entities I’ve ever experienced.”

The AOC also is targeted to receive $3.9 million for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) recently announced “Greening the Capitol” initiative, which aims to have the House operating in a “carbon neutral” environment by the end of the 110th Congress. A majority of that $3.9 million will pay for costs associated with shifting more fuel at the Capitol Power Plant from coal to natural gas.

The Library of Congress would receive $572.5 million in the spending bill, a $64 million (12.5 percent) increase over 2007 levels. (A provision in the fiscal 2007 emergency supplemental rescinded $50 million in funds from the Library.)

The bill provides $7.5 million for the Library’s new Digital Talking Book Program, which is almost $12 million below what the agency had sought to begin a transition effort away from analog talking books for the blind. However, language is included in the bill to allow the Librarian of Congress to transfer additional funds to the program with approval by Congressional overseers.

The Government Printing Office is granted $131 million in the House bill, an increase of $9 million (7.1 percent). That total is well below the agency’s $182 million request. In fact, the GPO had requested the largest increase — 48.6 percent — of any legislative branch agency this year. GPO officials testified that the money is needed for the printing of the U.S. Code, which takes place every six years, and printing additional documents for the Congressional Record, largely because of an increased Congressional workload.

Language also is included in the GPO portion of the bill to prevent the agency from using private security guards to protect its passport production facilities, an issue that riled members of the subcommittee during hearings this spring.

The bill that was passed Wednesday did not include two changes proposed by Republican members of the subcommittee.

The first amendment, offered by ranking member Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), sought to change the name of the CVC’s Great Hall to Emancipation Hall in an effort to avoid confusion with Library of Congress space by the same name and also to pay tribute to the slaves used in building the Capitol. While several Democrats agreed that a name change was perhaps in order, they disagreed the legislative branch subcommittee was the place to initiate such an effort. Wamp eventually withdrew his amendment with promises from Democratic Members that they would pursue the matter in the majority.

Meanwhile, an effort by Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) to save the Open World Leadership Center, which is operated out of the Library of Congress but funded separately from the LOC, was defeated along a party-line vote. The exchange program for leaders from the former Soviet states essentially would be closed down by the fiscal 2008 spending bill, but Wasserman Schultz said she is working to see if the State Department could pick up the program.

The full committee is expected to take up the bill next week. Over on the Senate side, the bill is expected to go directly to a full committee markup later this month.

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