Capitol Police seeks modernized radio system, but its budget request left out the $35M project

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse told House appropriators yesterday that updating his department’s 20-year-old radio system was his No. 1 priority, but his 2008 budget request did not include the $35 million necessary to modernize the system. The budget instead focused on staffing concerns and financial management issues.

“The radio system is 20 years old and is antiquated and outdated,” Morse told the House Appropriations Committee’s legislative branch panel. “We cannot communicate effectively with each other.”

If the department were to receive the funding today, it would take two to three years to realize an operational system and the overall project would take between two and 10 years, highlighting, he said, the “expediency of getting started.”

Panel Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) stressed the importance of getting the police’s “financial house in order” before appropriating for the communications system.

“My concern is that you would have difficulty … keeping track of your [new] equipment until you know what’s already there,” Wasserman Schultz said, citing a Government Accountability Office report that found that the department’s Office of Financial Management operated in constant crisis mode.

Assistant Chief of Police Daniel Nichols said the department has had problems with the current communications system.

“We’re going through growing pains since [Sept. 11, 2001],” Nichols said. The lack of inscription and interoperability “increases our concerns every day.”

The Capitol Police requested $11 million next year just to maintain the current system.

Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) questioned Morse on the request, saying that the $11 million is for “Band-Aids.”

“The truth is you haven’t even asked Congress to give you money to move into the 21st century,” LaHood said.

“Communication is very important,” LaHood continued. “If it’s your No. 1 priority, then we ought to find a way to make it happen. Communications on [Sept. 11] was a total joke. No one had any idea what was going on.”

Among other issues discussed, the panel questioned a request for 30 more civilian officers, the inventory of Capitol Police assets, security for the presidential conventions, the Capitol Visitor Center’s security and emergency-response training.