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Sequestration Hits Home On Capitol Hill: Long Lines At Senate Buildings

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Long lines are greeting Capitol Hill staffers due to budget cuts affecting the Capitol police force. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Long lines are greeting Capitol Hill staffers due to budget cuts affecting the Capitol police force. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON -- Congress appears to finally be feeling the effects of federal budget sequestration.

On Wednesday, Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer sent an email to Senate staffers in response to complaints he has received about long lines at entrances to Senate buildings. The delays, said Gainer, were a result of sequestration's budget cuts that have reduced the time that U.S. Capitol Police officers are able to work.

"Many of you have contacted me about the long lines and trouble getting into our Senate buildings over the past three days," Gainer wrote. "I regret the inconvenience and continue to explore ways to mitigate the delays. However, given the budget constraints all of us are experiencing, I do not expect substantial relief."

He added that Capitol police were exploring ways to reduce the wait time.

"However, the police staffing impact and concomitant costs are significant," wrote Gainer. "Remember, if we are able to relieve the pressure in the morning by opening additional doors it requires police officer overtime, and the costs still must be recovered from some USCP service. Figuring out where to relieve the pressure is the hard part. Something has to give."

Sequestration's $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts were never meant to go into effect. But because Congress and the White House failed to agree on an alternative deficit-reduction plan, they did.

Shortly after sequestration hit, Capitol police announced that entrance closures and modifications around Capitol Hill would go into effect on March 11.

A HuffPost reader who works as a House staffer sent along a document outlining entrance closures and changes due to sequestration. View it here.

And while some congressional staffers may be facing long lines -- or having to tell constituents that they can't tour the White House -- the pain across the country is more severe: the loss of tuition assistance for members of the military, job losses, lack of funding for food assistance programs, reductions in funding for natural disaster recovery and more.

Gainer's email (shared by a Senate staffer with The Huffington Post):

Subject: Message from Terrance W. Gainer: Door Closures/Long Lines

This message was sent to the Senate community on behalf of Terrance W. Gainer, Senate Sergeant at Arms.

Door Closures/Long Lines

Senate Community:

Many of you have contacted me about the long lines and trouble getting into our Senate buildings over the past three days. I regret the inconvenience and continue to explore ways to mitigate the delays. However, given the budget constraints all of us are experiencing, I do not expect substantial relief.

The United States Capitol Police (USCP) continues to explore ways to relieve congestion and limit the wait time. However, the police staffing impact and concomitant costs are significant. Remember, if we are able to relieve the pressure in the morning by opening additional doors it requires police officer overtime, and the costs still must be recovered from some USCP service. Figuring out where to relieve the pressure is the hard part. Something has to give.

I respectfully request your assistance: you can make a difference. As you make appointments with visitors or otherwise communicate with the public, please emphasize that the process of entering the building has changed. Remind visitors that there are fewer entrances available, and perhaps recommend to them the appropriate door to use. Most important, and much like our shared experience at airports after 9-11, more time is needed to get into the buildings. The sociologist in me hopes visitors and staff, armed with current information, will adjust patterns and past practices.

We will continue to adjust signs, add signs, and use way finders to help. Your personal communication with expected visitors is critical. Notifying us or the USCP about particular needs, early meetings, large gatherings, committee hearings, and social functions might also ease the pain.

Please be assured that we understand the issue and will work with you as we adjust to a few new realities.

Respectfully, Terry

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