Sequester prompts (some) closed doors at U.S. Capitol

March 1, 2013

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Voters may want to slam doors shut in the faces of lawmakers, but it's actually going to happen thanks to sequestration.

Officials warned Friday that at least some entrances to the U.S. Capitol, adjoining congressional office buildings and the Capitol Visitors Center, may be closed, or open for only limited hours, in the coming weeks because of budget cuts taking affect Friday.

A letter sent to congressional staffers Friday said that the "changes will most likely take place within the next two weeks, and the Congressional Community will be notified in a timely manner before implementation."

The message was co-signed by Terrance W. Gainer, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, and Paul D. Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms, who stressed that "the safety and security of the U.S. Capitol will not be compromised. The U.S. Capitol Police will remain ever vigilant, prepared and committed to protecting the Congressional Community."

Just like federal agencies, congressional offices and support agencies also face budget cuts as part of sequestration. The U.S. Capitol Police faces a $23 million cut in personnel costs, mostly through reducing overtime hours, and a $5 million cut in other expenses, according to estimates produced last fall by the Office of Management and Budget.

A Capitol Police spokesman didn't immediately return requests for comment Friday on the specifics of the anticipated budget cuts.

The Architect of the Capitol, the agency employing the Capitol's maintenance and support staffers, also faces a 5.3 percent budget cut.

Stephen T. Ayers, head of the agency, told employees this week that the agency will absorb the cuts by eliminating certain contracts, delaying maintenance projects, reducing supply levels and cutting back on overtime pay, training programs and hires.

Despite potential inconveniences, closed entrances are nothing new on Capitol Hill, which has seen at least a few entry points closed off in recent months due to construction of the inaugural stage.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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Anne Bartlett | March 1, 2013