It’s no high-octane shootout, but the Capitol Police is taking heat from all sides.
Months after a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall was exposed, the department is still plagued by allegations of negligence among the ranks of its police chief, administration, inspector general and board.
The trouble began when miscalculations in payroll led to a budget shortfall that was at first estimated at $5.5 million. Now, the shortfall is expected to be as much as $6.8 million this year and perhaps $14.8 million next fiscal year.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch last week passed a budget that would take funds from the Architect of the Capitol to plug the police deficit.
But the handout didn’t come without rebuke.
The subcommittee asked the Government Accountability Office to review whether the Capitol Police Board’s structure and governance practices should be overhauled, according to committee documents.
Though the board — which is made up of Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers; Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, who is a former police chief; and Chairman and House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood — took a hit, the subcommittee also mentioned Police Chief Phillip Morse, citing “frequent significant problems” in his administration.
“Tone and accountability are developed and owned by the chief,” the report states. “The inability of the chief to make improvements in this area undermine his credibility.”
The remarks echo those heard for months in House Administration Committee hearings, most recently when the panel met in July to field recommendations from Capitol Police Inspector General Carl Hoecker about ways to fix the department’s budget formulation process.
Though lawmakers have examined whether the Capitol Police should relinquish control over its own budget, Hoecker at the time said progress had been made that leads him to believe the department can maintain its own finances.
Still, during the hearing it was revealed that unnamed administrative staff allegedly lied to investigators about the budget shortfall — a possible criminal offense — and that administrators ignored past, proven budget processes.
The IG report also uncovered e-mails between Morse and then-Chief Administrative Officer Gloria Jarmon’s office in which Morse asked why processes that produced a successful 2009 budget were not followed.
Now, a discrimination lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleges that Jarmon may have been forewarned that the budget was bungled.
Marie Hughes Brown, formerly the department’s budget officer, is alleging retaliation and disability — and race-based discrimination. “Hughes Brown identified to her supervisors … that several assumptions on which the 2010 budget was being based were incorrect and would result in budget deficits,” according to the July complaint. “Jarmon ignored [Hughes Brown’s] cautions and proceeded to submit projected budget numbers that included personnel costs that she knew or should have known were incorrect.”
Hughes Brown was placed on indefinite administrative leave in February, the same month the shortfall was discovered.
Jarmon resigned from her post on
Sept. 10, after 20 years of federal service, citing a desire to start a private accounting firm. When reached for comment Tuesday, she said, “I refuse to respond to the allegations at this time.”
Hoecker outlined at the July House hearing a slew of recommendations to buttress the department’s administrative wing, and Members on the House Administration Subcommittee on Capitol Security at the time urged Morse to take action.
But the Senate subcommittee report implies that the inspector general’s office could use repair, too.
“The Committee is, in general, disappointed in the quality of the work product of the inspector general,” the report states. “For example, the IG referenced a Committee e-mail correspondence that took the content of the e-mail out of context to make a point in his findings.”
“A phone call could have resolved the issue,” said Jake Thompson, spokesman for subcommittee Chairman Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). “While a small issue, the committee is concerned that it is symptomatic of work that is less than thorough, complete and beyond reproach.”
“We appreciate the comments of the committee in their Senate appropriations report and look forward to working with them on their recommendations in the very near future,” Hoecker said in an e-mail. “I have full confidence that my staff, in conducting audits and investigations, follow the highest standards.”
“The Chief of Police has publicly accepted responsibility for these administrative errors and, in concert with the Board, is taking swift and decisive actions to identify and begin correcting the deficiencies that led to these errors,” Livingood said in an e-mail. “The Board supports the Chief and these ongoing reviews and corrections.”