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AOC, Capitol Police to Watch Over Union Square

The Architect of the Capitol and the Capitol Police, two entities already facing a tightened budget environment, are suddenly set to take on more responsibilities this year.

Since the 1930s, the National Park Service has been in charge of Union Square, an 11-acre swath of the National Mall that contains the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial and the Capitol Reflecting Pool.

A provision in the fiscal 2012 omnibus spending bill signed into law in December gave the AOC jurisdiction over Union Square’s maintenance and upkeep.

And as a new fixture of the Capitol campus, the Capitol Police will oversee its security.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, the chamber’s chief law enforcement officer, has suggested that the decision to transfer land from the Park Service’s domain to that of the AOC arose from a desire to streamline Capitol security.

Park Service spokesman David Barna stressed in an interview with Roll Call that Union Square is a small area and will likely be a low time commitment for the AOC and Capitol Police as it was for the Park Service.

The cost of maintaining and upgrading the space could be challenging, though.

Barna said the Park Service had prepared a proposal to do major renovations of the area that would cost millions of dollars.

Funding for the Architect of the Capitol was cut in fiscal 2012 by more than 5 percent from fiscal 2011 levels, and the agency cites a $1.5 billion backlog in existing maintenance projects across the Capitol campus.

In addition to significant maintenance on the aging Grant memorial, dedicated in 1922, the Park Service’s proposal also would have shrunk the size of the Reflecting Pool to create more grassy areas for activists who have frequently used Union Square as a demonstration space.

Spokeswomen for the AOC and Capitol Police both said their respective agencies were prepared for the land takeover and did not foresee any complications — financial, logistical or otherwise.

“We will continue to work with Congress, the National Park Service, the Trust for the National Mall and others to ensure this area continues to address the needs of the Congress and the American people as well as present an impressive and proper transition to Capitol Hill from the National Mall,” said Eva Malecki of the AOC.

“The USCP anticipates that it will be able to address this new jurisdictional responsibility within our security protocols and funding levels received from Congress,” said Sgt. Kimberly Schneider of the Capitol Police, adding that the force was already familiar with the area given its proximity to the Capitol.

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