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Capitol, LOC Police Grilled on Merger

The fate of more than 20 Library of Congress Police officers who would not meet Capitol Police requirements and instead become civilian employees when the two departments are merged served as the focus of a House Administration Committee hearing held Wednesday.

Capitol Police and LOC officials reached an agreement last week on outstanding merger issues, drafting a two-year plan to bring the two departments together. Under that proposal, transfer of LOC officers to the Capitol Police would begin in October 2008 and involve training, outfitting and swearing-in new personnel.

But age, tenure and physical requirements are expected to prevent nearly two dozen of the Library’s 99 officers from becoming Capitol Police officers, a move criticized by LOC Officer Michael Hutchins, who heads the LOC Police union.

“We deserve to have this accomplished in the most fair and equitable manner possible,” Hutchins testified. “We hope that all Library of Congress Police officers will be afforded the opportunity to transition to the United States Capitol Police and be allowed to continue to serve as police officers.”

Under the current proposal, LOC officers who don’t meet Capitol Police requirements would still join the Capitol Police, but serve in civilian roles. The exact number who would be effected was unclear Wednesday — Hutchins said 21, while LOC Chief Operating Officer Jo Ann Jenkins said 23.

Plus, neither could give the committee details about why the officers wouldn’t be able to transfer over, including the exact ages of the officers and other specific facts, sparking criticism from Members on the panel.

“To me, that shows disrespect to this committee,” said Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.). “If we are going to take the time to ask, I expect to get an honest answer.”

Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) asked the Library to provide those details to the committee as soon as possible, noting that the panel merely is trying to ensure LOC officers keep their jobs.

“We want to get this merger done,” he said.

Lungren also questioned why the process will take two years to finish, especially since it kicked off in 2003. (Talk of the merger itself began about 20 years ago.)

The Golden State lawmaker noted that as California’s attorney general, he helped oversee the merger of the California Highway Patrol and California State Police — a process that took just over a year to complete.

“I’m perplexed,” Lungren said.

Hutchins testified that the delay also has affected the LOC officers themselves, preventing mobility within the department and even causing problems issuing weapons and equipment.

“Our careers have been placed in a state of suspense,” Hutchins said.

But Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse said that since he took the helm as chief in October 2006, he has pushed to move the process forward. In the past three months, the two sides have come to agreement on issues that have been up in the air since 2003, Morse noted.

“I have proceeded very quickly with this,” he added.

Under the merger terms, jurisdiction of LOC buildings located on the Capitol complex would fall to the Capitol Police, who also will conduct security operations at the Library.

Taking two years to complete the merger is necessary because of other administrative, jurisdictional and personnel issues that still must be worked out, Morse said, adding: “The timeline is very specific.”

House Administration ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) — who urged the two sides to ensure that the merger won’t affect their core missions — asked Morse if those details could potentially hinder the merger process.

“We don’t believe they are deal-stoppers,” Morse said. “But they do require further analysis.”

It is important that things such as jurisdictional issues are handled properly, Ehlers added. As a former House Administration chairman, Ehlers has spent years overseeing the merger process and Capitol security matters as a whole.

“I thought it would not be done before I died or retired,” Ehlers joked. “You proved me wrong.”

The merger indeed has advanced in recent weeks. After the Capitol Police and Library reached a general merger agreement last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the language as part of its legislative branch funding bill.

And Brady called Wednesday’s hearing “the first step toward advancing an appropriate authorizing bill” for the merger in the House.

“My dad was a police officer,” Brady said. “So my heart, my mind, my body, my soul is on your side.”

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