United States Capitol Police--Deployment of Personnel
B-317252: Jan 30, 2009
In a letter dated September 23, 2008, the Congressional Subcommittee requested GAO's opinion on whether the United States Capitol Police (USCP) complied with the applicable statute, 2 U.S.C. 1978, when it deployed personnel to Texas following Hurricane Ike. The Subcommittee also asked that we review USCP deployments conducted since 2005 and determine whether those deployments complied with the statute. The deployment, which began on September 14, 2008, occurred without USCP providing prior notification to the Committees on Appropriations as generally required under 2 U.S.C. 1978. We conclude that because the deployment was conducted for the purpose of responding to an emergency, which is one of the exceptions to the notification provisions, USCP was not required under the statute to provide prior notification to the Committees. With regard to the second question, USCP does not keep records of deployments for which it deems notification not required, and thus we were unable to conduct a general review of these deployments for compliance with the statute.
Based on our understanding of the circumstances and the language of the statute, "responding to an imminent threat or emergency," we find USCP's conclusion that it was not required to notify the Appropriations Committees of the anticipated costs to be a reasonable one. The clear purpose of the deployment was to respond to the declared emergency by protecting critical assets and personnel that were needed to restore the operations of congressional offices. The record shows that USCP's actions were taken in response to a specific and time-sensitive request by a member of the Capitol Police Board in support of the Office of the CAO's efforts to provide electricity, telephone services, and network connectivity requested by a Member of Congress whose local office had been rendered useless by the hurricane. According to USCP, Congressman Lampson was on site, assisting his constituents, throughout the time that the agents were deployed to Texas. Moreover, staff in some areas were banned from even going to their work site to determine if the office was functional. In addition to providing security and protection, USCP agents were needed to interact with other law enforcement officials who themselves were operating in a disaster area under extremely difficult circumstances. As USCP points out, the statute does not contain a definition of the phrase "responding to an imminent threat or emergency," and USCP has not attempted to define the phrase in implementing guidance or instructions. The legislative history does not explain what Congress intended regarding what constitutes an emergency. For example, should this exception be interpreted as limited to deployments in which immediate action is necessary to prevent the loss of life or property, or are deployments to provide assistance in the aftermath of an event also covered as a response to an emergency? We generally will not object to an agency's reasonable interpretation of a statute it is charged with administering. Under these circumstances, we have no basis to object to USCP's view that the deployment was conducted for the purpose of "responding to an emergency" under 2 U.S.C. 1978, and thus the requirement for prior notification did not apply to this deployment.