Minimal Services Running in Capitol

Posted February 9, 2010 at 2:52pm

The Capitol complex was again functioning with a low level of services Tuesday, even as Senators braved the snowy streets to make a scheduled late afternoon vote.

The Architect of the Capitol continued to run only “essential services,” or routine operations and maintenance of Congressional buildings. Senate and House operations also stayed minimal, with officials trying to ensure that employees wouldn’t be stuck on the Hill when the second snowstorm hit Tuesday night.

Still, those Members and staffers who made it to their offices were able to find food and get any essential help they needed. The Longworth cafeteria offered coffee and sandwiches, while the Senate kept open the Dirksen cafeteria until 2:30 p.m., the Hart Sundry until 3 p.m. and Cups & Co. until 5 p.m.

Anticipating the Senate vote, officials are also holding open the Cannon Carry Out until the chamber officially shuts down for the night.

“The food services are a little bit more limited because there just aren’t that many people up there,” Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said. But his office also kept open services essential to a working chamber, such as the Senate television studio and IT services.

The Capitol operators, meanwhile, have been working almost nonstop since last week. Many stayed in the office on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights, sleeping between shifts on couches and fixing potluck dinners in the office kitchen.

“We have a nice little kitchen up there for them, and they anticipated it because we gave them warning,” Gainer said. “They ate in a picnic fashion and we ordered some pizzas.”

The Capitol Police were similarly stranded on the Hill. About 150 officers stayed in nearby hotels over the weekend, and police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said the department planned to provide hotel rooms and food vouchers again Tuesday night.

But so far, officers haven’t run into much trouble. Police have only made two arrests since last week — one for an unlicensed taxi cab and one for Operating After Suspension.

Some AOC workers will also be working on the Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday to keep the sidewalks and paths around Congressional buildings clear.

“Crews have already been deployed to address additional snowfall today and tomorrow,” said AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki in an e-mail Tuesday. “We are so very proud of our staff and their extraordinary work to remove snow from all sidewalks, streets and parking lots throughout the Capitol complex along with the staff who continue to maintain the buildings and provide essential services during these storms.”

Neither Malecki nor Schneider could provide information on how much the inclement weather was costing the agencies or whether the extra cost could be absorbed into their current budget.

But Gainer said the Senate might be back to normal operations on Wednesday, “depending on whether the snow comes, if the Senate is in session and what [the Office of Personnel Management] says.”