By KEVIN FREKING
WASHINGTON (AP) — The chief of the U.S. Capitol Police told lawmakers Wednesday it was his recommendation to move forward with a phased-in reopening of the U.S. Capitol as his agency works to overcome attrition after the January 6 insurrection and hiring delays because of the pandemic.
The testimony before a House subcommittee underscores that persistent security concerns are playing a major role in restricting the public’s access to the Capitol, an increasingly sore point with lawmakers from both parties who are urging a return to normalcy after two years of restrictions.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger said the department doesn’t have the personnel to staff the number of posts deemed necessary to secure the Capitol and adjacent offices. Additional posts were added after Jan. 6.
“I regret we’re the chokepoint, we’re the problem in terms of getting it reopened fully,” Manger said.
The Capitol saw a return of more visitors this week with congressional offices limited to leading one tour weekly. The adjacent Capitol Visitor Center would reopen for limited numbers of people on May 30.
“By the end of the summer, my hope is that we can do a little bit more,” Manger said.
Hundreds of officers from the U.S. Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department responded to the Jan. 6 attack and dozens of them were beaten and injured as the mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters pushed past them to break into the building and interrupt the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.
Congress has boosted funding for the agency after Jan. 6 to increase hiring, cover overtime costs and bolster the security of the complex itself. Hazard bonuses were paid to officers who responded to the insurrection and retention bonuses were paid to curb attrition levels that temporarily doubled their normal rate. The budget for the coming fiscal year recommends about a 17% increase in funding.
Manger said it takes time to get in place the number of officers the agency needs, though. He said the agency has about 1,850 officers, but is about 300 short of where it needs to be. Some of those positions have already been authorized and about 130 officers are in training. Meanwhile, the agency in a typical year, loses about 75 to 80 through attrition.
“I believe at this point we are in fact getting ahead of attrition, but we’ve got a ways to go before we get up to where we need to be,” Manger told lawmakers.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who leads the subcommittee with jurisdiction over Capitol Police spending, told Manger that lawmakers understood it was a “heavy lift” to get the agency’s ranks where they need to be.
“The American people want to get back here. The schools want to get back here. The tourists want to get back here,” Ryan said. “Given everything going on in the world, I think we’ve got to do everything we can to make sure people can come and be reminded of how important America is, how important the Capitol is.”