Library of Congress officials warned Wednesday that if the Senate does not increase funding levels in its version of the fiscal 2008 legislative branch appropriations bill, many of the agency’s programs will be negatively affected and even canceled, including Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial birthday celebration.
But the Library did made progress Wednesday in the merger between its police force and the Capitol Police, sending a joint proposal to House appropriators and administrators that would see the two departments become one by the end of fiscal 2009.
When Senate appropriators mark up their legislative branch bill today, they are expected to announce that the Library will given $577 million in fiscal 2008, about the same as the House version of the bill.
But Library officials are urging Senate appropriators to fund as much of the Library’s programs as possible (the agency had requested a total budget of more than $661 million for fiscal 2008). Librarian of Congress James Billington sent a letter Wednesday to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, explaining that the Library’s core functions could suffer under the funding levels provided by the House and requesting increases for specific programs.
The ongoing continuing resolution and additional cuts from the House bill eroded funding for the Library’s core functions, according to Library officials. It equates to a $32.1 million reduction in the overall budget — equivalent to the funding needed to pay 322 full-time employees.
“I certainly don’t want to say we would be laying people off,” LOC Chief Operating Officer Jo Ann Jenkins said. “But if we were to receive the House funding level, the Library would have to look” at the future of some of its programs.
The agency specifically is concerned the amount provided in the House legislation is not enough to sustain Library programs such as the National Digital Information Infrastructure Program and National Audiovisual Conservation center.
“I hope that we will be able to gain back some of the money lost in the House markup, so we will be able to carry out all these functions,” Jenkins said.
More than 60 private partners have signed onto the NDIIP, which seeks to collect and preserve digital information that could be useful to Congress and the public. The House provided $6.5 million to help kickstart the program — but the Library needs about $12 million to sustain it, according to Jenkins.
The Library also is seeking help from lawmakers to maintain staff at the National Audiovisual Conservation Center, the state-of-the-art facility located in Culpeper, Va., that holds collections of the nation’s film, television and radio heritage.
Congress only provided the Library with salary funding to last one year — officials are seeking language to make those funds permanent, Jenkins said.
One thing not funded in the House bill is the $1.4 million needed for the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, which is headquartered at the Library. Without the funds, the exhibition honoring Lincoln’s 200 birthday could be canceled.
“We certainly want to put on the record that this program would be one of those that would be put in jeopardy if we didn’t get the funding needed,” Jenkins said.
And if funding levels remain the same, Library workers around the globe will be hit. The Library currently operates overseas field offices in six American embassies that provide research material such as newspapers, economic statistics and commercial publications that would be impossible to acquire otherwise.
In order to keep office space in the embassies, the Library is required to pay a security fee to the State Department. Unless about $2 million is provided in the budget, offices in Cairo, Egypt, and Jakarta, Indonesia, would be forced to close.
Meanwhile, efforts are under way to jumpstart the merger between LOC Police and Capitol Police officers, a process that began in 2003.
Under the revised proposal put forth by Library and Capitol Police officials, the merger would begin in 2008 and last two years. The Capitol Police would conduct all law enforcement and security operations at the Library, and LOC buildings in the Capitol complex would officially become fall under Capitol Police jurisdiction.
As far as the officer transition process, Library police would go through the procedures required by anyone seeking to become a Capitol Police officer.
But even those who might not qualify for an officer position — including LOC officers who cannot meet age or service requirements — would be brought on as civilian employees, Jenkins said.
“They do still have to go through polygraph and background, but are guaranteed a job of some sort under the umbrella of the Capitol Police at the end of the process,” said Stephanie Allen, a Landrieu spokeswoman.
She later added: “All the LOC officers will become part of the Capitol Police in some form.”
Mike Hutchins, who chairs the LOC Police union, said Wednesday that officers still have concerns about the proposal.
For one, LOC officers want to maintain their own retirement system rather than be forced to enter into the system under the Capitol Police. Many forces have different retirement system for different employees, Hutchins noted.
The transition process also irks LOC officers, Hutchins said.
“They’re acting as if we are recruits. … We’re experienced officers,” he said. “We do the same and similar duties as the Capitol Police.”
Hutchins added LOC officers are hoping to meet with Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse to discuss merger details.
Members of the House will take up the merger issue during a House Administration Committee hearing on Wednesday. Police officials, labor representatives and others are expected to testify.
John McArdle contributed to this report.
Clarification: June 25
In the June 21 article “Library Pleads for Increased Funding to Save Its Programs,” Library of Congress Police union head Mike Hutchins is quoted saying LOC officers want to keep their retirement system when they merge with the Capitol Police. Hutchins clarified that the union hopes that LOC officers who meet the requirements to become Capitol Police officers can join the Capitol Police retirement system. Those officers who would be transferred to civilian jobs are seeking to keep their civil service benefits.