Capitol Police at odds with Inspector General on security clearances, staffing levels

An agency spokesperson cited the cost and time to complete background checks as a "major concern"

By Chris Marquette
CQ-Roll Call

WASHINGTON — Capitol Police leadership is reluctant to implement a substantial recommendation from Inspector General Michael A. Bolton that would mandate officers and employees of the department obtain security clearances.

Bolton on Tuesday told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee “there seems to be some hesitation moving toward that,” referring to his recommendation that sworn officers and operational civilian employees get a top secret clearance and for administrative civilian employees to at least get a secret clearance.

A U.S. Capitol Police officer stands at the steps of the Senate at dawn in Washington, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.
A U.S. Capitol Police officer stands at the steps of the Senate at dawn in Washington, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

When asked why there is hesitation, Bolton said it could have to do with having to alter current hiring standards, how to handle current employees who were hired without a clearance and whether the union is opposed to a mandate to get and maintain clearances.

Notably, Bolton floated the concern that if the department expended the significant money and resources to get officers those clearances, they might turn around and leave for another federal agency “because that is a sought-after tool within the rest of the federal government.”

It is “much easier to move to another federal agency” with such clearances, he added.

The exodus of officers this year has been significant, as they dealt with trauma from the Capitol attack by a pro-Donald Trump mob and been forced to work a lot of overtime, resulting in low morale.

Even so, there is a disconnect between what the inspector general says and what department leaders say about staffing and attrition, a discrepancy that raises questions about the lack of certitude around staffing levels.

Bolton said around 200 officers have left the department since Jan. 6. A Capitol Police spokesperson said the number Bolton gave was incorrect and that the department has lost “roughly 130” officers through attrition since the first pay period of 2021.

Bolton said the department is authorized to have around 1,800 officers and currently has “either 1,600 or 1,500,” but said he’s not exactly sure of the numbers. The department, in October, said it had just over 1,800 officers and was authorized to have 2,000. The Capitol Police spokesperson did not answer a question on whether Bolton’s figures were accurate.

The spokesperson did, however, convey that requiring security clearances was a concern, saying: “The cost and the delay in finishing background checks on applicants are a major concern for requiring security clearances for officers.”

Gus Papathanasiou, the chairman if the Capitol Police union, did not respond when asked if the union had an issue with a possible security clearance mandate.

Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and the ranking member of the committee, said the security clearance mandate would serve as an impediment to hiring the force to full strength.

“Well, I think at this point, it’s an impediment because there are plenty of available jobs for people who are willing to do this kind of work and anything that creates an obstacle to taking this job over all the others that are available can’t be helpful in getting this force back up to full strength,” Blunt said.

Blunt argued that open positions at the Capitol Police are “pretty hard to fill right now.”

The spokesperson said the department is “working diligently to address staffing shortages in order to provide officers more time for additional training.”

Sen. Mark Warner, who chairs the Intelligence Committee, provided a view into the security clearance process. The Virginia Democrat noted there is around a 250,000-person backlog on security clearances and secret clearances that require an approximately 30-day wait.

Aside from those issues, much work needs to be done to improve the department, from the IG’s perspective. Of the 104 recommendations issued by Bolton’s team in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, 30 have been implemented. Further, Bolton reports that of 200 security enhancements the Capitol Police has submitted to the inspector general, only 61 “have supporting documentation to support that those enhancements have occurred.”

Ultimately, Bolton noted in his prepared remarks, Capitol Police “still lacks the overall training infrastructure to meet the needs of the Department, the level of intelligence gathering and expertise needed, and an overall cultural change needed to move the department into a protective agency as opposed to a traditional police department.”

Bolton plans to issue his final flash report in the coming days. Chief J. Thomas Manger will appear before the Rules panel in January.

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