Dirksen Staff Entrance Gets Sequester Bye

Posted April 15, 2013 at 6:29pm

Capitol officials are making some changes designed to alleviate the lines at Senate-side entrances for staffers and the general public.

In a change to the published map that could be of particular interest to staffers, the 24-hour entrance to the Dirksen Senate Office Building, which has been open to all since the sequester hit, will return to being open only to members and staff until 10 a.m. That entrance is among the most convenient to Union Station and is a favorite of people entering the complex in the morning.

Until the implementation of sequester cuts, the door was open only to members and staff, with a separate visitors entrance nearby.

The visitors door has been closed since March, when the Capitol Police Board decided to close numerous entrances in a bid to reduce overtime hours for Capitol Police officers and reduce payroll costs. The result has been lengthy waits to get into buildings for staff and visitors alike.

Some of the changes unveiled in the map circulated Monday provide for other doors to be opened earlier in the morning when the Senate is scheduled to be in session. Entrances to the Hart and Russell buildings that face Constitution Avenue will now open at 7:30 a.m. instead of 9 a.m., as they had on the previous map revised in March.

Based on a comparison of the maps, it appears that none of the Senate entrances closed because of the sequester will reopen.

The additional open hours during Senate sessions appear to be offset through a variety of other cutbacks during recess, when the demand to enter the Capitol complex is lighter. For instance, an entrance from the Hart Building’s parking garage will be closed all day on Sundays and until 5 a.m. Monday mornings during recess.

On Capitol Hill, lines to enter Capitol office buildings have been one of the most visible signs of the automatic spending reductions required by the sequester, which took effect as a result of the 2011 debt limit law and subsequent deficit reduction negotiations failing to yield an agreement.

Last month, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said in a letter to congressional staffers that everyone should expect longer lines to persist for the foreseeable future.

“Remember, if we are able to relieve the pressure in the morning by opening additional doors it requires police officer overtime, and the costs must be recovered from some [U.S. Capitol Police] service,” Gainer cautioned.

It was not immediately clear how the additional staff hours in the morning would be paid for.

Emma Dumain contributed to this report.