GOP Budget-Cutters Spare Capitol Police

Posted February 16, 2011 at 6:37pm

House Republicans have spared the Capitol Police from the deep cuts they are seeking in government spending, chalking up the fiscal clemency to much-needed security upgrades on Capitol Hill.

The continuing resolution providing funding for the rest of fiscal 2011 would add millions of dollars to the department’s budget. The $12.5 million increase marks the only boost to any Congressional support agency — some other Capitol offices would see eight-figure budget cuts under the spending plan.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, said in an interview Wednesday that the spending plan provides for seven new threat assessment agents in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

Currently staffed by 16 agents, the threat assessment section is the branch of the Capitol Police that probes phone and Internet threats against Members to check whether they are credible and warrant further investigation. The bill would allow the section to expand to 23 agents.

Crenshaw said the bill would also offset the Capitol Police salaries budget shortfall stemming from the department’s failure to account for issues such as attrition and weekend hours last year.

Capitol Police officials estimated that the shortfall would total $14 million this fiscal year. But Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said Wednesday that the $12.5 million in the House bill would be enough to stave off furloughs and layoffs. The total Capitol Police budget is $340 million.

“It’s great news. It fully funds the department and its 1,800 officers,” said Gainer, who is chairman of the Capitol Police Board this year. “It makes up for the money that was moved around because of the miscalculations in the past.”

Still, it will not be enough to hire other new officers, Gainer said. He said the department would most likely have to cut back in other areas, such as equipment upgrades.

“I don’t necessarily think there’s sacred cows in this thing,” Gainer said. “Just because you’re the police and just because you’re a Sergeant-at-Arms … does not make you immune from the herd.”

House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren said he is also confident that the committee can make the $12.5 million work for the department.

“We’re going to work our way through that,” the California Republican said. “We’ve been looking at that, we’re going to continue looking at that. It’s been my commitment that we’re going to make sure the security of this Capitol is not compromised.”

Overall, the Capitol complex would see $194 million in spending cuts under the House GOP plan, a 4 percent decrease from last year’s budget.

Just under half of the cutbacks come from the House itself, not the support agencies. The budget includes the 5 percent cut to Member budgets and 9 percent cut to the Appropriations Committee budget called for under a resolution passed last month.

But to reach the $80.7 million in non-agency House cuts, appropriators also sheared some low-hanging fruit. The GOP plan nixes projects for which money was set aside in prior legislative branch appropriations bills but which the House Administration Committee never authorized.

For instance, the 2010 legislative branch spending bill included $2.5 million for “demonstration projects” on new energy technologies, such as fuel cell, wind turbine and lighting projects. The effort was a pet project of former Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard and part of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) “Green the Capitol” initiative.

The plan is defunded under the CR.

Republicans had long said the project was a waste of money. And it turns out Democrats will not miss it either, one Democratic aide said.

“We didn’t spend the money,” the senior aide said. “We didn’t like the initiatives Beard came up with.”

Two other unauthorized Beard projects would be cut in the House bill: a tuition assistance benefit and a child care benefit for staffers.

“The money was set up but the program was never created,” Crenshaw said. “That’s money that doesn’t really affect anybody. You’re not laying off anybody, you’re not stopping a program that exists.”

Those projects are separate from the House child care center and employee student loan repayment benefits, which the bill still funds.