House panel sets guidelines for lawmaker security budgets
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers seeking to enhance their personal security in the wake of last month’s shooting at the GOP baseball practice will have to abide by spending guidelines for measures like bulletproof vests, surveillance cameras and alarm systems.

The House Administration Committee issued guidance to lawmakers to clarify permissible use of congressional office budgets, known as the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA), to pay for security while conducting official business.

“We hope this update to our regulations governing the MRA will enable you to better serve your district and help meet your security needs,” House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Robert Brady (Pa.), wrote in a memo to colleagues.

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The updated regulations come after the House passed legislation last week granting lawmakers an additional $25,000 to pay for security expenses. 

Under the new guidelines, members will need approval from the House sergeant at arms if they wish to purchase security equipment or systems that cost more than $10,000. That would include surveillance cameras, duress buttons, alarm systems and shatter-resistant window film.

They won’t need pre-approval if the security measures cost less than $10,000 and are purchased from a vendor cleared by the House sergeant at arms.

Costs of security personnel for members’ public events, like town halls, or at their district offices, are also considered qualifying, reimbursable expenses. So are bulletproof vests and security training sessions for members and staff.

Bulletproof vests that cost more than $500 must be added to lawmakers’ office inventory.

The taxpayer funds cannot be used to help secure lawmakers’ personal homes.

Paul Irving, the House sergeant at arms, has asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to issue a blanket ruling to allow any lawmaker to use campaign funds to pay for residential security systems.

The agency has issued a handful of rulings on a case-by-case basis allowing members of Congress to use campaign cash for home security, such as former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot in the head at a constituent event six years ago.

Irving noted in his request to the FEC that the Capitol Police has investigated about 950 threatening messages to lawmakers to date, which already surpasses the roughly 902 in all of last year.

The spike in threats “constitutes the new daily threat environment faced by Member[s] of Congress,” Irving wrote.

A gunman shot four people at the GOP baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., last month, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), a staffer for Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Lawmakers demand answers from Mnuchin on Trump tariffs Family connection is crucial to America's immigration system MORE (R-Texas), a Tyson Foods lobbyist, and a member of Scalise’s Capitol Police security detail.

The shooter, who died from gunshot injuries following his attack, had posted on Facebook that "It's Time to Destroy Trump & Co." and "Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy."

Scalise is still recovering at MedStar Washington Hospital Center after initially facing life-threatening injuries from being shot in the hip.

Other lawmakers at the practice acknowledged that the scene likely would have turned into a massacre had it not been for the presence of Scalise’s security detail assigned to him as a member of leadership.

That led to calls for enhanced security measures for rank-and-file members who don’t have round-the-clock security.