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In Tight Budget, Capitol Police Get Boost

Congress continues to grapple with a multimillion-dollar Capitol Police salary miscalculation, with House appropriators on Wednesday proposing to shift $14 million into police salaries to prevent furloughs in a spending bill that is otherwise full of cuts and flat lines.

Though the spending bill released Tuesday night by the House Appropriations Committee to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year keeps funding for the legislative branch flat overall, it makes cuts to the budgets of the Architect of the Capitol that will result in delays to maintenance projects around the Capitol complex.

Those cuts make way for an increase to the Capitol Police salary budget to backfill the shortfall stemming from the department’s failure to account for issues such as attrition and weekend hours last year.

“We have prioritized safety and security in this bill and cut in other areas,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

The House bill provides a total of about $4.7 billion for programs within the jurisdiction of the legislative branch, including the Library of Congress, the Office of Compliance and the Government Printing Office.

The bill provides $337.2 million for the Capitol Police, a $9 million increase over last year’s police budget, but funding for nonsalary expenses within the department’s budget is actually reduced.

The bill would put the department’s expenses budget at $58 million, a decrease of more than $5 million from fiscal 2010.

Part of that is to free up the $14 million needed to increase the force’s salary budget, which the bill sets at more than $279 million.

The increase, according to an Appropriations Committee release, is to “prevent the furlough of officers.”

“The enacted level for the police was insufficient to support the authorized level of sworn officers,” the release stated.

In February, Chief Phillip Morse discovered the $7 million budget miscalculation, which rankled Representatives and has since been the subject of several Congressional hearings. Police Inspector General Carl Hoecker said at a hearing in July that the error could result in a budget shortfall  of more than $14 million for fiscal 2011.

This House bill seems to fill that shortfall, but it comes at a price to maintenance projects scheduled to be carried out by the Capitol Police and the AOC. The trade-off will result in cuts to what the committee referred to as “lower priority security infrastructure projects.”

The Capitol Police will have “flexibility to reprioritize projects,” said a House Appropriations staffer. “They will have to work with the committee on which projects to delay or stop.”

A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police said the department does not comment on pending legislation.

But the bill does come with a boost to at least one Capitol security item. The legislation grants the department leeway to transfer an unspecified amount of already appropriated money toward the enhancement of the security buffer zone around the Capitol complex.

“When the project is finished, control of trucks entering the zone of the Capitol will be more automated, which the committee hopes will reduce some of the strain on officers who can be used on other posts,” the Appropriations staffer said.

The AOC faces a $4.6 million cut to its budget for House items in the bill.

This includes rearranging priorities to fund only “high priority deferred maintenance and life safety projects,” according to the Appropriations Committee release.

The legislation would decrease the AOC’s budget for House office projects by almost $25 million from fiscal 2010 levels.

But the Capitol itself might see an infusion of maintenance work: More than $21 million is added to the AOC’s budget for the building.

Funds for maintenance to the Botanic Garden, the Library and the Capitol Power Plant will also be decreased from fiscal 2010 levels.

The bill increases the House of Representatives’ salaries and expenses budget by more than $2 million to a total of
$1.37 billion. That’s to “replace critical life and safety equipment for the House Buildings and the House side of the Capitol,” according to an Appropriations Committee release.

The legislation provides the Congressional Budget Office a $1.7 million budget increase to hire analysts whose salaries were paid for by a fiscal 2009 supplemental.

Another $1.4 million is added to the Government Accountability Office budget to “accommodate their expanded workload covering an audit of the Federal Reserve and increased work related to the intelligence budget,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, criticized Democrats for assembling the spending measure Tuesday night and moving it to a floor vote Wednesday. “Voting on Appropriations funding for the legislative branch less than 20 hours after the details are made public is no way to govern,” Aderholt said. “This is an irresponsible way of appropriating during a time when we should be combing through each line item in open hearings in order to reduce federal spending.”

Before any of the changes are final, the bill will have to be reconciled with a not-yet-approved Senate version.

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