This week, the House of Representatives will consider the annual legislative branch appropriations bill, the third of 12 appropriations bills providing discretionary funding for the federal government. This bill provides funding for:
- the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP);
- the Government Publishing Office (GPO);
- the Government Accountability Office (GAO);
- the Congressional Budget Office (CBO); and
- the Architect of the Capitol (AOC).
The legislative branch appropriations bill provides $3.48 billion in discretionary budget authority, an increase of 2.1 percent over the currently enacted level. It includes a $1 billion funding hole, intentionally designed as a placeholder for Senate funding. Long-standing tradition allows each chamber to consider its own funding requirements separately.
While the bill does make cuts to some duplicative programs, mainly the Open World Leadership Center, there is a troubling overall increase in funding. Congress should carefully examine whether there are other areas in which to make reforms and save money.
For example, the bill increases funding for the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol, and continues funding the John Stennis Center. These are areas where Congress can save rather than spend the nation’s resources.
U.S. Capitol Police
The bill provides $391 million for the USCP, over $16 million more than the fiscal year (FY) 2016 levels. The USCP is a federal law enforcement agency charged with protecting Congress, the Capitol complex, employees, and visitors. With an estimated 2,266 sworn officers and civilian employees, there is one USCP officer or employee for every five staffers or Members of Congress. The force is nearly one-third the size of the entire U.S. Secret Service force.
Recommendation. The bill should freeze funding for the U.S. Capitol Police at current levels, which would save more than $16 million in FY 2017. The Capitol Police force is one of the highest paid federal law enforcement agencies. The USCP minimum starting salary is $57,598 plus benefits. FBI agents, in comparison, have a starting salary of $47,158. The high USCP officer base salary does not account for the more than $35 million in estimated overtime pay allowable for 2017—nearly 10 percent of the USCP operating budget.
Architect of the Capitol
The bill provides $560 million for the Architect of the Capitol, an increase of over $31 million compared to the 2016 enacted level. The bill directs funding priority to projects that protect and promote the safety of Capitol complex visitors and employees.
Recommendation. Projects that are critical to operational needs are a priority. This includes projects that work to maintain the health and safety of employees. The increase in funding for the AOC is acceptable, provided that other, lower priority programs are cut and the spending level does not increase above that of FY 2016.
John Stennis Center
The John Stennis Center is a legislative program intended to be a living tribute to John Stennis’s (D–MS) career as a Senator. The bill would provide $430,000 for the program, the same funding level as was provided in FY 2016. The Stennis Center aims to attract youth to careers in public service, promote leadership skills, and provide training and development opportunities to Members of Congress, congressional staff, and others in public service.
Recommendation. Given that budget deficits are projected to top $1 trillion by 2022, Congress needs to focus on spending priorities. There are numerous private entities providing services similar to the Stennis Center program. The Young Leaders program at The Heritage Foundation is one example. The John Stennis Center program was eliminated in the FY 2013 House legislative branch appropriation bill and should be eliminated by this bill as well.
The legislative branch appropriations bill falls short by failing to keep spending at or reducing it below the FY 2016 enacted level. While the Appropriations Committee should be applauded for phasing out some unnecessary programs, many areas of fiscal irresponsibility and inefficiency remain. Congress should be setting an example of how to reduce wasteful and duplicative programs for all other federal agencies and programs. Such small changes could save taxpayers millions of dollars.
—Justin Bogie is Senior Policy Analyst in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, of the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity, at The Heritage Foundation.