Legislative Branch Appropriations Jump

Posted February 4, 2008 at 6:47pm

Funding for long-neglected maintenance projects on Capitol Hill helped push President Bush’s fiscal 2009 legislative branch appropriations up 17.4 percent over the prior year, to $4.7 billion.

But Members have historically appropriated far less than the president’s legislative branch budget request, which is widely viewed as a wish list for the various agencies.

The legislative branch received only a 3 percent hike in funding for fiscal 2008. The fiscal 2009 budget proposal does, however, offer a glimpse into where the bulk of the appropriated money will go.

The Architect of the Capitol and the Government Printing Office led the infrastructure requests, with each agency arguing it needs to tackle long-overlooked maintenance projects.

The AOC requested by far the most funding and the biggest increase out of any legislative branch agency — $643 million, a 55 percent jump from last year’s $414 million appropriation.

The bulk of the requested funds would go toward the huge backlog of maintenance and repair projects throughout the Capitol campus, according to AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki, including nearly $127 million to repair dangerous utility tunnels beneath the complex.

“The longer we wait to address these issues, the greater the cost will be to fix the problems over time,” Malecki said.

Recent AOC assessments of Capitol Hill facilities have indicated a backlog of more than $600 million in deferred maintenance work and about $800 million in needed Capital Renewal projects, Malecki said. But until the AOC receives the money to fix these problems, they remain — and more problems could emerge, she said.

Once the assessments of all Capitol complex facilities are completed, the AOC will create a five-year Capital Improvement Plan to evaluate which projects need to be tackled first, placing fire- and life-safety issues at the top, followed by code compliance and historical preservation, according to Malecki.

This year’s major project request would go to repair the tunnels. The AOC signed an agreement with the Office of Compliance last spring to eliminate within five years several health and safety hazards in the tunnels, including asbestos and cracked and falling concrete.

Both the AOC and OOC say that progress is being made in the tunnels, but the AOC needs the nearly $127 million in order to keep the project on schedule, Malecki said. Without the tunnel request, the AOC’s budget request would be about 24.5 percent over fiscal 2008 appropriations, Malecki noted.

The AOC oversees 16.5 million square feet of buildings and more than 450 acres of land, Malecki said. Buildings range in age from 25 years old (the Library of Congress’ James Madison Building) to more than 200 years old (parts of the Capitol), she noted.

Other AOC requests include $27 million to make repairs needed to ensure Library buildings are in compliance with code and $31 million for the Capitol Visitor Center, which is set to open in November.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, is happy to see funds being requested for key infrastructure updates such as the utility tunnels, spokeswoman Stephanie Allen said Monday.

It’s much the same story over at the GPO. If Congress won’t help the agency move out of its outdated and large building, then lawmakers are looking at tens of millions of dollars to fix it up, according to the agency.

The GPO is asking for $33 million for building repair and technology development in fiscal 2009 in hopes that some of the money would help fix old elevators and leaky roofs. Officials asked for about $27 million in fiscal 2008 for similar reasons — and got none of it.

“It’s no longer fair to employees to continue to defer maintenance,” said GPO Chief of Staff Maria Lefevre, adding an oft-repeated phrase of Public Printer Robert Tapella: “When it rains, we know it’s going to leak, we just don’t know where.”

Moving from the large complex on North Capitol Street has been a priority for the agency for years. Officials say it is too big and too spread out for the needs of a modern printing plant. But in order to move, Congress must pass a bill that would allow the agency to keep the money from a sale rather than return it to the treasury. Tapella hopes to use that money to build the most environmentally friendly printing plant in the country.

Former Public Printer Bruce James tried to convince Members to help the agency make the move in the 109th Congress and ended up empty-handed. And if the agency is to stay in the 1.5 million-square-foot complex, Lefevre said, then it needs some work.

The extra funds bring the agency’s request to about $174 million, or almost 40 percent more than it got this year. The increase is not only for maintenance repair, it also would complete the funding for the Future Digital System, an initiative to put government documents online.

The GPO and the AOC aren’t the only legislative branch agencies to hope for more funds.

The Capitol Police requested nearly $334 million for fiscal 2009, a 19 percent jump from $281 million appropriated for this fiscal year.

Included is a $270 million request for personnel costs, which is an increase of about $36 million over fiscal 2008. A large chunk of that money is expected to go to the estimated 121 officers needed to patrol the upcoming CVC, which should be open for much of fiscal 2009, as well as additional costs stemming from the merger between the department and the LOC police force, which is already under way.

The Library of Congress is asking for almost 8 percent more than it received this year, mostly for salaries and expenses. The increase would make the total about $606 million.

And despite Comptroller General David Walker’s vocal disappointment with previous budgets, the Government Accountability Office also is asking for an 8 percent increase — one of the lowest of all legislative branch agencies. In the past, Walker has argued that the agency needs more funds to carry out the added responsibilities it takes on every year.

House leadership, officers and select committees requested about $1.3 billion for fiscal 2009, a 12.8 percent jump from fiscal 2008.

Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard, who oversees more than 600 House employees, requested $128.5 million. About $2 million of the CAO’s budget request is devoted to fund the Green the Capitol Initiative, spokeswoman Karissa Marcum said.

House Clerk Lorraine Miller requested about $25 million, and House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood asked for about $8.5 million.

Senate leadership, officers and committees, meanwhile, asked for $941 million, a 13.2 percent increase from fiscal 2008.

Other notable budget requests include $17 million for “Member Transition Services” after the 2008 elections and $3 million for the Capitol Police to provide security at the 2009 presidential inauguration.

About $19 million is being requested to provide new or expanded benefits to House employees, and $5 million for the Wounded Warrior initiative introduced last year by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).