By Kelly McCormack - 01/18/07 12:00 AM EST
Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer and nearly 400 people spent four hours on Friday discussing preparations and security for President Bush’s upcoming State of the Union address.
Security is one of many topics on which Gainer, who was chief of the Capitol Police until resigning amid charges of nepotism last year, will be focusing on his duties as the Senate’s principal administrative manager and chief law-enforcement officer.
“I’m pretty comfortable on the security issues, very uncomfortable on the protocol and the floor and all the procedural issues,” Gainer said last week in a sit-down interview with The Hill.
This is where his deputy, Drew Willison, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the Senate Appropriations Committee, will step in.
“It’s kind of [like] Batman and Robin where we [both] bring different strengths and skill sets,” Gainer said while sitting at the head of a large conference table in his office.
Reid specifically brought Gainer onboard because of his experience with security, the former police officer and milkman’s son from Chicago said.
“We don’t need dramatic [security] changes,” he said. “I think when the [Capitol Visitor Center] opens and the construction walls come tumbling down we’ll have some new issues that we’ll need to address.”
Though he didn’t want to get ahead of himself, Gainer mentioned that a tunnel system under parts of the campus could be good for Capitol Hill.
“We [need] to take a long look about whether there should be a tunnel system under Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue. I know it’s expensive and it’s high in the sky [but] I think there ought to be a lot more conversation of what we want the campus to look like 30 or 40 years from now.”
But balancing security and the openness of the legislative body is never an easy task.
“While we would like to have a very, very open, porous campus, we work with each senator and their staffs to understand the potential threats and how we need to minimize that. Its always a tough balance trying to figure out how to accommodate 9 million visitors, 35,000 employees and keep bin Laden out of here.”
Like his predecessor Bill Pickle, Gainer believes that a terrorist attack is inevitable on Capitol Hill.
“I think it is inevitable until we defeat our enemies around the globe. Given the availability of items that could be used for destruction it seems inevitable.”
As this year’s chairman of the Capitol Guide board and the Capitol Police board, roles that alternate between him and the House Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood, Gainer said he will try to “provide a bit more structure to the [police board] meetings. I’d like to see a beginning, a middle and an end to the projects.”
There is both “big stuff and little stuff” being discussed on the board. Projects include traffic flow on Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue; potential tour bus drop locations for the CVC; and evaluating the size, strength and boundaries of the police department.
The Senate sergeant at arms has many responsibilities — Gainer likened the job to being a city manager. The office has the largest staff and budget in the Senate and is responsible for technology support and telecommunications, printing and graphic services. It also has immediate responsibility over the Senate floor chamber and galleries. Other responsibilities include: escorting the president and other guests to the Senate for official events; making arrangements for funerals of senators who die in office; assisting in inauguration plans; and helping with swearing-in and orientation programs for new senators, the Senate website says.
Gainer had been working with L3 Communications when he received a “cold call” from Reid offering him the position.
“Truly, my first words [were], ‘You’re kidding me,’” he said.
Gainer served as chief of the Capitol Police from 2002 to March 2006, when he became aware that he had violated an anti-nepotism law that prohibits federal agency heads from hiring family members. His son-in-law Darren Ohle was hired in 2003. Both Gainer and Ohle said that they were not aware of the law.
Gainer is just thrilled to be back.
“This is grand,” he says, motioning to the large window in his ornate office with a view down Constitution Avenue. Overall he says that he’s been welcomed back on Capitol Hill.
“Even the people who were least enthralled with the Terry Gainer administration [have] congratulated me,” he said. “I think that’s how it should’ve been months and months ago. You can have disagreements and not be disagreeable. We’re all supposed to be able to go out and have a beer.”
And Capitol Police officers have a running joke with their former leader.
“The joke is that I went from a chief to a sergeant,” Gainer laughed, saying that being a sergeant was one of the best titles he had as a police officer. “But I just keep telling them to call me Terry.”