Congress’s Sergeants-at-Arms Face Scrutiny After Siege

Lawmakers often held significant sway over how decisions about security were made, former law enforcement officials and a former sergeant-at-arms said.

Terrance W. Gainer, who previously served as both the chief of the Capitol Police and the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms, said that based on his experience, Capitol security officials often had to run their plans by members of Congress before major events. He said that given the blowback after the heavy policing of demonstrations against police brutality this summer, lawmakers were likely wary of allowing the Capitol to appear like a fortress.

“It wouldn’t surprise me, having been chief, if there was some reticence on behalf of leadership in the House and Senate not wanting to look like we were overarmed,” Mr. Gainer said.

Former Secret Service officials said that although Mr. Stenger and Mr. Irving were senior officials there in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — when the federal government remade its security apparatus to defend against a range of threats — their time did little to equip them to deal with dynamic security issues like a siege.

Mr. Stenger did not hold a prominent Secret Service role in a security detail protecting a president or vice president, according to former agency officials. In one of his final posts at the agency, he led the Office of Protective Research, an intelligence division that investigates threats against the president.

Mr. Irving served in another role that had little to do with day-to-day security protection: the head of the Secret Service’s congressional liaison office. In that post, he built relationships with lawmakers and staff aides, answering their questions about the agency’s work and arranging testimony for top officials.

Mr. Gainer, the former sergeant-at-arms and head of the Capitol Police, said that emergencies on Capitol Hill typically exposed problems with the chain of command that had festered during quieter times. He said that during the 2013 shooting at the Washington Navy Yard and the 2011 earthquake on the East Coast, security officials on Capitol Hill had differing views on how to react, complicating their response.

Shaila Dewan contributed reporting.