WASHINGTON — The remaining temporary fencing installed around the Capitol in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection will likely be dismantled starting Friday, House Sergeant-at-Arms William J. Walker said in a Wednesday memo to lawmakers and staff.
The Capitol Police Board has “concurred” with the Capitol Police recommendation “to make incremental modifications to the security posture of the Capitol Campus,” the statement said.
Based on the police assessment of the “current threat environment and USCP’s enhanced coordination with District of Columbia, neighboring state and federal law enforcement partners, the Board supports USCP’s recommendation to remove the temporary fencing around Capitol Square,” Walker said in the statement.
Removal is expected to begin as early as Friday and conclude within three days if weather cooperates, he said.
Even though the fencing will be removed, restrictions on who can access the building are set to remain in place. The Architect of the Capitol can also “expeditiously reinstall” the fence if conditions warrant, he added.
Major funding concerns and questions about the police department’s organization also remain in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy warned the Capitol Police that funding could run dry by August if lawmakers don’t approve a supplemental spending bill before then. In the aftermath of the security failure at the Capitol, congressional hearings and assessments have exposed the force’s lack of transparency and the structure of the Capitol Police Board as inefficient and ripe for an overhaul.
The House’s $4.8 billion fiscal 2022 Legislative Branch bill and the accompanying report also would seek to implement several changes at the department.
Removing the fencing has been a gradual process. Workers removed an outer — and much larger — fencing perimeter in March.
As the COVID-19 pandemic gradually recedes, more tourists can be seen around the complex snapping selfies or posing in front of the Capitol, sometimes standing in the middle of a driveway guarded by Capitol Police so the fencing doesn’t appear in the back of the photo.
The Capitol Police in March told then-acting House SAA Timothy Blodgett that “there does not exist a known, credible threat against Congress or the Capitol Complex that warrants the temporary security fencing,” beginning the gradual security drawdown.
National Guard troops stationed at the Capitol completed their five-month deployment at the complex in May, fully leaving after a slow monthslong reduction from a peak of 25,000 service members hailing from all states and territories.
The Capitol Police, once again in charge of security at the complex, has faced a reckoning in the past six months, and still awaits funding to bolster its force and for other improvements to the complex’s security.
House Democrats passed a $1.9 billion security supplemental spending package by a 213-212 vote in May despite unified Republican opposition to the bill.
The Senate has not yet taken it up, and Leahy said that if the GOP and Democrats can’t agree on a security spending package, the Capitol Police will “deplete salaries funds by early August” and that it would be forced to continue delaying the purchase of “critical equipment, like respirators, ballistic helmets, and other protective and civil disturbance hard gear.”
Leahy also said the department has delayed training sessions and wellness programs meant to address mental health following the attacks on the Capitol complex this year.
Story by Chris Cioffi, CQ-Roll Call