Senators Urged to Make Major Investment in Capitol Complex After Riot

Officials responsible for safeguarding the U.S. Capitol told lawmakers it is time to modernize security measures at the complex following the Jan. 6 insurrection, but it could cost more than $1 billion to do it.

A U.S. Capitol Police officer stands watch on Independence Avenue before dawn as the House and Senate prepare to convene a joint session to count electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Officials tasked with protecting the U.S. Capitol collectively asked senators Wednesday for $1.76 billion to shore up police forces, modernize security measures and preserve and repair the Capitol complex in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Appearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, acting Chief of U.S. Capitol Police Yogananda Pittman requested $619 million for her department’s 2022’s budget, a 20% increase from a year before. The uptick is essential, she testified, because in just the first four months of 2021, the force has seen direct threats jump nearly 65% compared to 2020.

From 2017 to 2020, Capitol Police – the agency uniquely responsible for protecting members of Congress and maintaining order in the halls of the House and Senate – saw a nearly 120% increase in threats, with most of them originating far beyond what is known as the national Capital region of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

Architect of the Capitol Brett Blanton, who is responsible for upkeep and maintenance of the entire complex, requested $865 million for the department he oversees, an increase of roughly $67 million from the year before.

Yogananda Pittman, acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, told senators on Wednesday her department will need over $600 million for its 2022 budget. (Image via Courthouse News)

Insurrectionists caused an estimated $30 million in damage, at least, during their rampage. Smeared feces, shattered windows, busted porticos, defaced murals, antique lanterns ripped from the ground, blue paint tracked over historically significant balustrades and stone walkways – the destruction unfolded over thousands upon thousands of square feet.

All of that has only translated into more cost and headache for the already backlogged department, Blanton testified Wednesday, with $1.8 billion in deferred maintenance.

A considerable $171 million chunk of the architect’s total request for 2022 would be devoted to remedying significant vulnerabilities in the complex that could make the physical damage wrought by insurrectionists – which, though chaotic, was mostly contained – look like child’s play.

An unchecked fire roiling through the complex is one vulnerability chief on the architect’s mind. Blanton told lawmakers the U.S. Capitol currently lacks a building-wide sprinkler system that is up to code.  

Burst pipes are also a problem. Earlier this year, the Capitol architect witnessed a frozen pipe burst and ultimately spill 200,000 gallons of water a day until it was resolved, damaging congressional recording spaces in the process. If another pipe were to burst, the prospect of shutting down the whole campus – especially as security and pandemic restrictions alike are still in place – would be an unwelcome disruption.

Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson told senators Wednesday the insurrection exposed intelligence and technology weaknesses that would require $281 million to rectify.

Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana questioned Gibson over her department’s $25 million request for a special “business continuity” relief fund for the 2022 budget.

Braun asked Gibson if things would have been any different on Jan. 6 if the Sergeant at Arms had what amounted to a rainy day fund it could tap after the emergency had subsided.

The Capitol architect’s office incurred the most damage, Gibson said, but the increase in funding would mean more resources for building a ready and resilient infrastructure that could potentially relocate senators on a moment’s notice away from Capitol Hill.

Gibson also requested an additional $2 million and nine new full-time officers for the Office of Intelligence and Protective Services. Dozens more were already added in other departments under the sergeant’s oversight earlier this year. A slew of threat management analysts and other security officers would be hired in 2022 if the request is approved, making security surveillance of social media a priority.

Over the first quarter of 2021 alone, Gibson testified, the department warned lawmakers of more than 292 criminal threats targeting them, a 24% increase from the year before.

A more cohesive relationship is also being formed between the U.S. Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. National Guard, Capitol Police Chief Pittman said Wednesday.

A complex organizational and operational relationship has plagued dynamics around the various law enforcement agencies who serve in and around Capitol Hill, she said. U.S. Capitol Police are still working on gaining full autonomy to, at the very least, call the D.C. National Guard on their own during an emergency or crisis.

“There are details that still need to be worked out,” Pittman said, noting she speaks regularly with the Secret Service, U.S. Park Police, FBI and MPD after the insurrection.

“We’ve arrested over 350 participants in that insurrection and we have identified hundreds of individuals. We’re working daily to make sure that everyone who came here on Jan. 6 and violated aspects of the law are being held accountable,” Pittman said.

For fiscal year 2022, Pittman’s department is requesting 212 new officers be sworn in and 47 civilian positions be created.

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