Staffers face effects of sequester

Staffers, lawmakers and others working at the House and Senate soon will have fewer ways to enter the Capitol. 

It will also take longer for trash to get picked up, and become harder for lawmakers to get signs to wave on the floor during a debate. 

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Visitors might even notice a little more dust on the walls, or a lack of shine on the floors. 

And those are just a handful of the effects the sequester is expected to have on Capitol Hill. 

The changes will begin to be noticed in a week to 10 days as the mandatory budget cuts are implemented by the various offices and agencies that take care of life in the Capitol complex.

One of the first things to be affected will be getting into the Capitol.

U.S. Capitol Police will close some entrances and exterior checkpoints as a result of the sequester cuts, which will allow the force to reduce overtime and hours. Police insist the changes won’t hurt security. 

“While we regret inconveniences this may cause, please be assured that the safety and security of the U.S. Capitol Complex will not be compromised,” members of the Capitol Police Board, which oversees security of the complex, wrote in a memo on Friday.

The inside of the Capitol and Senate and House buildings may look a little shabbier under the sequester, too. 

The Architect of the Capitol’s (AoC) office, which handles all physical support for the complex, said it will have to cut down on “maintenance and operations programs,” according to a letter sent to employees and obtained by The Hill.

That means trash cans might not be emptied as fast, and that the Capitol could lose some of its shine as maintenance staff see their hours cut. 

While the letter didn’t give any specifics, it said repair projects would be postponed, overtime would be cut, new hiring would be limited and contracts would be reduced or cut. 

A report from the Office of Management and Budget detailing the government-wide cuts on Friday said the AoC will have to cut about $30 million. The Capitol Visitor Center, which handles tourists and tours, will lose about $1 million.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) will lose $26 million from sequestration, while the Government Printing Office (GPO) will lose about $7 million, according to the OMB report.

The Senate Sergeant at Arms office is losing $7 million under the sequester, according to the OMB memo, while U.S. Capitol Police are losing $17 million.

Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer told The Hill that most congressional employees will face some inconveniences.

“Maybe waste cans won’t be emptied as often as we’ve been doing and the floors may lack some luster,” said Gainer, who insisted the business of Congress will go on with a smile.

“We’re going to keep a smile on our faces and do the best we can with the pills we’ve been handed,” he added.

President Obama made the employees of the Capitol a symbol of the budget cuts when he invoked them in his remarks on Friday.

“Starting tomorrow, everybody here, all the folks who are cleaning the floors at the Capitol — now that Congress has left, somebody is going to be vacuuming and cleaning those floors and throwing out the garbage — they’re going to have less pay. The janitors, the security guards, they just got a pay cut, and they’ve got to figure out how to manage that. That’s real,” he said.

But one bright spot for employees is that most of the offices aren’t requiring furloughs — at least, not yet.

Both the GPO and GAO said that furloughs weren’t being implemented — though they warned they were not off the table. 

“Furloughs are a last resort,” GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told employees.

The GPO, which is responsible for all the Capitol’s printing needs — including those signs lawmakers waive on the chambers’ floors — said there could be delays to requests if budget cuts weren’t resolved and furloughs become impossible to avoid. 

“Risks of reduced responsiveness, work accuracy, and timeliness may result from reduced staffing if a furlough is implemented,” according to a GPO spokesman. 

The agency might also have to cut its contracts to some printers, which would increase workloads and reduce response times.

Several other offices refused to rule out mandated unpaid leave further down the road.

Meanwhile, lawmakers will also be affected.

Their office budgets will be cut by 8.2 percent under the sequester, according to a statement from Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Administration.

“Today, as a result of sequestration, member budgets will be reduced another 8.2 percent. Although sequestration isn’t the ideal way to reduce government spending, it is now the law and Congress is not, and should not be, immune.  To the contrary, we should continue to lead by example and do our part to get this country on a fiscally sustainable path,” she said on Monday.

A memo obtained by The Hill and sent to offices by Miller on Feb. 15 warned lawmakers that their Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) would be adjusted downward.

Members use their MRAs to pay staffers, rent office space in the district, travel back and forth to their districts and send out mailings to constituents. Each member receives an MRA based on a formula that takes into consideration the district’s distance from D.C., the physical size of the district and the going rate of office space in the districts.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suspended the use of military aircraft for official travel by House members, which will likely curb their official trips, known as codels.

Molly K. Hooper and Jeremy Herb contributed.