Technology, expense kill House's long-lived page program

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 8, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Since the First Continental Congress in 1774, messengers have been used to run errands and deliver messages to members of Congress. But no more, at least not on the House of Representatives' side.

Bowing to technology and the realities of a federal budget that's dripping in red ink, the House's two top leaders announced Monday that the House page program, whose alumni include Microsoft founder Bill Gates and a variety of politicians, is dead.

The program, which for decades was a way for members of Congress to reward the children of their supporters back home by bringing them to Washington for as long as a year, no longer serves a useful purpose, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.

House pages' primary duties of running documents between offices and delivering messages to members on the floor now are handled more efficiently by email, BlackBerrys and iPhones, the statement said.

The program also was expensive, costing about $5 million annually to administer.

"This decision was not easy," Pelosi and Boehner said, "but it is necessary due to the prohibitive cost of the program and advances in technology that have rendered most page-provided services no longer essential to the smooth functioning of the House."

House pages are high school juniors with 3.0 grade point averages, and they serve anywhere from a few months to a full school year. They live in a dormitory and attend classes at the Capitol Page School in the Library of Congress. Boehner and Pelosi's statement said each page cost the federal government $69,000 to $80,000 per school year.

Dustin Walker, an aide for the House Armed Services Committee who worked as a House page in 2006, said he was sad that students wouldn't be able to enjoy the program in the future.

"There's nothing like being a 15-year-old kid and being one of the only people that's allowed to stand on the floor of the House and see how things operate there," Walker said. "The page program as it existed was such a unique opportunity, I don't see how it could be replicated."

But the program also had a history of problems. In 1983, Reps. Dan Crane, R-Ill., and Gerry Studds, D-Mass., were censured for having sexual relationships with 17-year-old pages. In 2006, Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., resigned after it became known that he'd made sexual overtures to male pages over the years. Three years ago, four pages were dismissed for sexual misconduct and shoplifting.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., a member of the board that oversees the page program, said she understood why the House program was being canceled but was "deeply saddened."

"For nearly 200 years, the page program has brought young people from around the country into the highest levels of our nation's government, allowing them to see the process of democracy up close," she said in a statement.

The Senate's pages program will continue.

(Daniel Lippman, Adam Sege and Curtis Tate contributed to this report.)

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