Capitol Police chief says staffing shortages are delaying Capitol reopening
U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) Chief Thomas Manger on Wednesday said staffing shortages in the department are delaying the reopening of the Capitol building.
The Capitol’s phased reopening began on Monday — the first step in bringing the public back to the Capitol after it was closed to the general population for two years because of the pandemic. Under the plan, however, it will still be months until constituents have full access to the building.
Asked by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) about the decision to institute a phased reopening, Manger said it was his idea to recommend such a plan because the department does not have the staffing to be at all necessary posts — both those that existed before the pandemic and others that were added after.
“We don’t have the staffing to be at all the posts where we were pre-pandemic. One of the reasons is we have more posts now than we had pre-pandemic because of a number of issues. We are staffing posts that didn’t exist two, three years ago,” Manger said during testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.
Capitol Police and congressional leaders have sought to bolster security following the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Manger said the department’s staffing shortages have regrettably been the “choke point” of fully reopening the Capitol building.
“As we have the staffing we’re gonna — we want this facility opened as much as anybody, and I regret that we’re the choke point, we’re the problem, in terms of getting it reopened fully,” Manger said.
“But I do think everybody’s on board that they want to make sure that the safety and security of this campus is what it should be as we reopen,” he added.
Capitol authorities announced the reopening plan last week, after the complex scaled back some COVID-19 protocols and as the number of coronavirus cases dropped in Washington, D.C. The first phase of the plan allows for school group visits and permits lawmakers and staff to direct a limited number of tours.
Before this week, only lawmakers, staff, credentialed journalists and official business visitors were allowed to enter the building. The second phase of the reopening plan is set to begin on May 30, which will include a limited reopening of the Capitol Visitor Center.
Staffing shortages have been a struggle for the department since the Jan. 6 attack. In a January report, the Capitol Police board wrote that staffing shortages were the “biggest challenge facing” the agency.
Herrera Beutler on Tuesday said the department is down more than 300 officers.
The board wrote in the report that it was making efforts to address the issue by contracting securing personnel “to staff posts that the USCP has identified as suitable for security officer coverage” and emphasizing focus on employee wellness.
Asked by Herrera Beutler on Tuesday about reports that portions of the contracted security guards have been unable to pass basic background checks, Manger said authorities are having “much better luck now” with finding suitable individuals.
“When we first heard that a number, that the first group that were having difficulty finding folks that would pass the background check, we decided to contract with additional firms. And we’re having much better luck now in getting folks that can pass the background check because we didn’t want this to delay things,” Manger said.
“So if there was a delay it was a matter of maybe a week or two, but we do have folks that have passed. When we get them on board, they’re gonna go through, I believe, about a week of training and then … we’ll be able to deploy them in the field,” he added.