Metal detectors and X-ray machines at the southwest door of the Longworth House Office Building stopped House intern Joshua Wheeler from allegedly carrying an unloaded 9mm handgun to work Monday.
As the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia moves forward with its case against the 25-year-old from Kansas, Capitol Hill law enforcement authorities are quietly implementing a plan to make sure every person who enters the complex undergoes the same level of screening. Slated for multiple phases, a garage security enhancement project will move the entire Capitol complex far closer to 100 percent screening, House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving explained in testimony submitted to the House Administration Committee.
The first phase is the installation of infrastructure and hardware to allow the garage entrances to be locked down in the event of an emergency. Next is a feasibility study, according to Irving’s submitted testimony.
On Wednesday, lawmakers wanted to know how intrusive the plans will be for members and staff. Drivers are currently screened at mechanical barricades surrounding the campus and have their trunks searched before entering the garages. After parking, drivers and passengers with House IDs can exit the camera-monitored garage into the basement level of the House office buildings.
“It’s a difficult balance. Let’s put it that way,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., after hearing from Irving on the project designed to address existing vulnerabilities. “But that’s part of why we have these hearings, is to let it be known to the officials who are in charge of keeping that delicate balance that there are considerations that they need to take into when they change policies.”
Over the course of four workdays in July 2014, Capitol Police spotted two 9mm handguns during the security searches that are standard protocol for visitors and staffers entering congressional office buildings. The incidents shed light on a major security gap. At the time, members talked about tension between public safety and easy access, which the committee wants for the convenience of constituents and staff who need to be able to move expeditiously around the complex.
In August, Capitol Police began enforcing a new ID check policy at the House garages. When a car pulls up, officers check for the requisite parking stickers and ask every passenger to show credentials. Any passenger over the age of 18 who is without a congressional ID is required to exit the vehicle prior to its entry into the garage.
Irving said he is working very carefully with House Administration Committee and House leadership on the next phase of changes. “There will be some conveniences that will be dispensed with, but I will say that we’ll do everything we can to ensure that members have access to the doors that they require,” he said. “We’ll probably be undergoing either a prox card or a biometric type of entrance systems so that members can utilize more doors.”
Davis said he agreed with Irving that the new security project “is critical.”
After the hearing, Irving declined to give reporters any specifics on a timeline for the project, citing security concerns.
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.
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