Shea-Porter Questions Security of House Parking Garages

Posted October 21, 2013 at 12:21pm

Out of concern that guns could be smuggled into House office buildings via the parking garages, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter wants a review of Capitol Police procedures for searching and screening the vehicles and drivers authorized to park in indoor lots.

The New Hampshire Democrat reflected on the “shocking and disturbing” Sept. 16 mass shooting at Navy Yard in a recent letter to members of Congress and sounded the alarm that current procedure “may not be thorough or robust enough to prevent an individual from bringing firearms or weapons into the House complex.”

One month after the shooting, which left 12 people dead and temporarily pushed the Senate side of the campus into lockdown mode, Shea-Porter began circulating a letter to House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving pressing the chamber’s chief security official on whether security is tight enough to prevent a similar tragedy. The purpose of the letter, according to Shea-Porter’s office, is to find out whether the Capitol Police has enough resources and funding to keep Capitol Hill safe.

“According to the United States Capitol Police, the current procedure for checking House employees and staff who enter the House complex via the House garages is to verify that the vehicle is correctly tagged with identifying plates or stickers, confirm the ID of the person within the vehicle and then to perform a visual check of the trunk and interior of the vehicle,” Shea-Porter wrote in the Oct. 17 letter.

The House Administration Committee is in charge of issuing the permits vehicles need to enter the garages and lots around the House office complex. Parking permits must be authorized through the office of a House employing agency, such as a member office or the House chief administrative officer, and must be renewed each Congress.

“The vehicle is then allowed to proceed into the House garages, and the individuals are not subject to further security before entering House Office Buildings,” she writes. “This is the general procedure for almost everyone who enters the House garages and parking areas, with exceptions for members of Congress or other officials.”

Lt. Kimberly Schneider, spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, declined to comment for this story. Schneider said the department does not discuss security operations, but it constantly assesses and reassesses security procedures.

Irving told CQ Roll Call that he takes member concerns “very seriously, regardless of the issue.” He said he has contacted Shea-Porter’s office but declined to publicly comment on the issues raised in the letter. “I’d rather not get into security issues at this time.”

On a stroll around the South side of the grounds, drivers were observed pulling up to the mechanical barricades surrounding the campus and flashing their congressional IDs to the officers manning the checkpoints. Once confirmed, the barricades were lowered and the cars were waved through. Garages are monitored by security cameras. After parking, individuals exit the garage into the basement level of the House office buildings.

About 3,500 indoor parking spaces are available on the House side of the congressional campus, according to sources familiar with the parking procedure.

Shea-Porter suggests “a more widespread use of dogs, or the installation of metal detectors and inspection stations between the garages and the rest of the complex.”

Footage released by the FBI shows defense contractor Aaron Alexis arriving at the Navy Yard parking garage in a rented Toyota Prius, then walking into the entrance of one of the buildings carrying a backpack shortly before the Sept. 16 shooting began.

“The fact that an individual could gain access to what should have been a secure facility represents a significant failure to adequately protect the safety of federal employees,” Shea-Porter writes.

Ben Wakana, a spokesman for Shea-Porter, said the congresswoman has decided not to go forward with formally sending the letter and will instead address the concerns during a meeting that affected parties are working together to schedule.