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Name-Brand Food, Security and Voting Machine Funding Sought in House

Top officials testify before Legislative Branch Subcommittee

House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving gave testimony at the House budget hearing Tuesday. He's pictured here in January 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving gave testimony at the House budget hearing Tuesday. He's pictured here in January 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

This year’s budget request for the U.S. House of Representatives showed a few changes in the works for Capitol Hill, including heightened security, more brand-name food options, and new voting machines.

The House Appropriations Legislative Branch subcommittee hosted a hearing Tuesday where top officials testified about funding requests stemming from their departments.

Some changes could come as early as August and others in a few years. Here’s what to watch for:

Security checkpoint changes

Visitors, press and staff won’t need to endure long lines outside the Capitol in coming years, according to House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving. A master security plan includes adding security screening before you even get into the Capitol building, he said.

“It strikes me that we’re in 110-year old to 60-year old buildings with vestibules that were made to do nothing other than walk through the door,” Rep. Mark Amodei said.

House security is working with the Architect of the Capitol to design outdoor screening centers to make getting into the Capitol safer for members and more comfortable for visitors, Irving said. It would help prevent instances like the 1998 shooting of two Capitol police officers when the shooter entered the Capitol and opened fire.

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On a more day-to-day basis, outdoor screening centers would give people in line a place to wait away from the rain or heat when they visit Capitol buildings.

Building a south Capitol door entrance with outdoor screening is one option, the Sergeant at Arms said. This already happened after 9/11, when the House experience temporary increased security.

Diagrams are still being made for the improved security measures, Irving said.

New voting machines

“Do we need like a training session for some members, you’ll explain to them how to use this, or are they gonna be able to figure this out?” Committee Chairman Kevin Yoder asked. “This seems like an ‘old dog new tricks’ kind of issue here.”

Yes, the House voting machines are getting a revamp for the first time in two decades. But not too much is changing, House Clerk Karen Haas told the committee.

The new system will be simple for members to navigate and will look similar to the old process, Haas said. The only thing members need to watch out for is using their old cards, which won’t work once the new boxes are installed.

The new technology still costs $300,000, even if the process will remain the same.

The renovated boxes have new LED lights, tell members what they voted for on-screen and have aids for the visually impaired. The only big change for representatives is the two additional boxes on the House floor to speed up the voting process.

The new voting boxes will be up and running after August recess, Haas said.

More security off-campus

After the shooting at last year’s Congressional baseball game House security stepped up police presence at all off-campus events, Irving said.

Capitol security instituted a “robust outreach” to House offices, committee and leadership to make sure there is security staff at all off-campus events, Irving said. Many off-campus events that were not staffed by security before last year’s shooting now have security or Capitol police presence.

“Any time any member or a group of members are going to go off-campus we want to know about it,” he said.

When House members contact security about an off-campus event, they determine how much staffing is needed based on the location and exposure of the event, Irving said.

House law enforcement also focused on boosting security measures for Representatives outside Washington: one district office per member now has security system equipment. So far, House security implemented mainstay measures — which include an intrusion alarm, duress button and intercom system — in over 260 offices, Irving said.

Not just any food

Regular cafes aren’t cutting it for Capitol employees: staffers requested more brand-name food options and more cafeterias in the Capitol, Chief Administrative Officer Philip Kiko said at Wednesday’s House budget meeting.

Bakery and café chain Au Bon Pain plans to open in the Cannon office building in January 2019.

The suggestions came from 2,400 hill employee responses to a survey on Capitol food service.

There is already a Dunkin Donuts in the Longworth office building and a Subway in the Rayburn building.

Food quality and service have been a point of contention on the Hill for years since the Capitol signed a contract with Sodexo, a food services company in 2015.

Unsolicited, a House leadership aide texts with some thoughts on the new food in the Capitol: “Less choice, less quality, more $$$.”

— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) August 11, 2015

Last year, food quality was a major complaint.

“The food being served is still terrible and the prices are still too high,” Wasserman Schultz told Kiko at last year’s meeting.

Getting more brand-name food might be the solution. The Dunkin Donuts in Longworth is one of the top sellers for the chain in Washington, Kiko said.

“We do eat a lot of donuts here,” Yoder said.

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