Panel’s Hard Questions for Capitol Police Chief

Posted April 10, 2013 at 6:13pm

On the morning that the White House delivered its fiscal 2014 budget to Congress, Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine delivered his first testimony before the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.

The Wednesday morning hearing was primarily an opportunity for Dine, who was sworn in as chief in December, to explain and justify his agency’s budget request of $363 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

It was also an opportunity for appropriators to get Dine in the hot seat to answer a number of pointed questions about how he will lead the department that has, under the previous chief, had its share of financial trouble and oversight gaffes.

The most aggressive lines of inquiry came from ranking member Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who has returned to a leadership role on the subcommittee after a hiatus from her spot as top Democrat on the panel. She was previously chairwoman in the 110th and 111th Congresses.

Wasserman Schultz presided over the panel during the years of Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse, who retired in the spring of last year. She often took hard stances against the agency’s operations, such as when she threatened in early 2010 to strip the Capitol Police of control of its own budget when a management “miscalculation” resulted in a $5.5 million spending shortfall.

Her memory of previous pratfalls within the agency remains strong, and on Wednesday she pressed Dine and the department’s chief administrative officer, Richard Braddock, to discuss when Congress might finally see the implementation of long-delayed, multiyear and multimillion-dollar effort to upgrade the Capitol Police’s outdated radio system.

Morse said last year that the project would finally be ready for implementation in the spring of 2013, and a current timetable has now moved the definitive due date to later this year. Wasserman Schultz pushed Dine and Braddock to confirm that this schedule was still practical, given the time it will take to train officers and get the system up and running.

“I am asking you a direct question,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Is it likely, do you think, we are going to go beyond the fall of 2013?”

Failing to get that direct answer, Wasserman Schultz launched into the story of how tensions with her husband came to a head because of her punctuality problems. He would ask her when she was due home, and she would underestimate how long she was going to take.

“I didn’t want to deal with the pushback,” she explained, because she was always late. Her husband finally told her, she said, that he’d prefer she be honest and realistic about her timing.

“I would like the Capitol Police to apply what my husband and I both abide by in our marriage, so that it’s managed better and things go more smoothly, to the honesty and transparency in which this project is going to come to fruition,” Wasserman Schultz continued.

Braddock ultimately admitted there was little chance of meeting the fall 2013 deadline, to which Wasserman Schultz replied, “Instead of having to drag that out of you, it would really be helpful” to get straight answers on this matter and others.

Lawmakers on Wednesday also asked questions that signaled their lingering insecurity after the shocking near-fatal shooting of their colleague, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz., in January 2011. Subcommittee member Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., asked Dine how he planned to combat “complacency” on the force, saying some officers seem distracted by nonrelevant television programs at their posts and that there didn’t seem to be a response system in place for when he reported he had received a violent threat on Capitol grounds.

Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-Ga., another member of the panel, questioned Dine about his relationship with the Capitol Police Labor Committee, which is poised to hold a vote of no confidence against a Capitol inspector later this month, and about the status of a class-action discrimination lawsuit of black officers against the department that’s been ongoing for more than a decade.

Despite hard questioning, however, there was a general acknowledgement that Dine, being a new arrival, had quite a bit on his plate, especially with the first couple of months of the year overtaken by the presidential inauguration and State of the Union planning.

Dine, in turn, appeared to appreciate Congress’ involvement in the agency’s work.

“Having been in this position for over three months, I  . . .  have come to appreciate the interest of the Congress … in our success,” Dine told the subcommittee. “You and your staffs have taken the time to work closely with the department’s leadership and have shown a keen awareness of the complexity of our mission and the challenges we face.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine was sworn in. He was sworn in to his post in December.