Capitol Police push back against talk of furloughs
The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) is pushing back against suggestions that a budget crunch could force the department to furlough officers later in the summer.
The agency is facing a severe budget squeeze, largely due to a spike in officers’ overtime pay following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Those surprise costs have led to expectations that the department’s salaries budget will run out as early as mid-August — a month and a half before funding would be replenished with the start of the next fiscal year. The dilemma was first reported Friday morning by Punchbowl News, which suggested the result could be temporary layoffs among the officer corps.
The department, however, is offering some indication that furloughs can be avoided. In a statement issued Friday, a spokesperson said USCP is working with Congress to ensure the department remains fully-staffed, despite the budget difficulties.
“The United States Capitol Police continues to advise and work with our oversight committees, so that the Department can secure the Capitol, Members, and staff within our funded levels,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Supporting our workforce while carrying out our mission remains a high priority.”
The USCP declined to get more specific. But another source familiar with its budget quandary said the department has some flexibility to shift funds from other buckets — including money earmarked for equipment purchases and training — to prevent officer furloughs. The department could also free up additional funds by closing some Capitol Hill checkpoints when Congress leaves Washington for the long August recess, when such closings are routine in any year, the source said.
Still, such funding shifts could carry their own liabilities, depleting the USCP of equipment and training just six months after the deadly mob attack on the Capitol, which injured roughly 140 law enforcement officers, more than half of them representing the Capitol Police.
“It’s not like there’s money just sitting around. They would have to stop doing other things, or stop buying equipment, or that kind of thing. To what extent that would even cover the shortfall, we’re not quite sure,” said the source. “The bottom line is … they are going to exhaust the salaries account in mid-August. And they may have some work-arounds and they may not. And even if they did, they probably wouldn’t be for the benefit of the department in the long run.”
The USCP’s budget struggles arrive amid a congressional impasse over legislation to provide the department with emergency funding to weather the crisis. Although the House passed a $1.9 billion supplemental funding package in May, resistance from Senate Republicans has stalled the proposal in the upper chamber.
Supporters of the House bill are now using the news of the USCP’s budget troubles to promote the emergency funding — and pressure Senate Republicans to drop their opposition. The House package includes roughly $44 million for the Capitol Police, including funds for overtime pay, training, equipment, trauma support for officers and expanding intelligence gathering.
“Because the men and women of Capitol Police have increasingly worked overtime in the wake of January 6, USCP is on track to exhaust its salaries account before the end of this fiscal year,” said a second source familiar with the topic. “This will create serious problems for the department if the Senate does not act and pass our Security Supplemental, which included $31.1 million to replenish this account.”
The debate over law enforcement is hardly limited to the Capitol Police. More than a year after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers, Congress is still fighting for a deal on legislation designed to combat racial bias in police departments around the country. And Republicans are accusing President Biden and Democrats of going soft on crime at the southern border, where a wave of migration has overwhelmed law enforcers and badly strained the immigration courts charged with screening asylum-seekers.
Against that backdrop, even those sounding alarms about the USCP’s budget problems are predicting that Congress won’t leave Washington without addressing it — if the threat of furloughs is real.
“It’s unlikely,” the first source said, referring to the temporary lay-offs. “Because frankly if it got to the point where there was no other option, I think Congress would end up passing something.”
“If they come to us and say, ‘We don’t have the ability, even with transfers, to get out of this hole,’ I think that would move the Senate to act,” the source added. “It takes a lot, but I think that would.”