By Ben Terris
August 9, 2011Technology is about to put about 70 young men and women out of a job.
After nearly 200 years of using teenagers as paid messengers, the House of Representatives will be concluding its page program as of Aug. 31.
"We have great appreciation for the unique role that Pages have played in the history and traditions of the House of Representatives," House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Monday in a statement. "This decision was not easy, 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."
Pages will remain in the more tradition-bound Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid's office said after the Boehner-Pelosi announcement that it had no plans to discontinue the program in that chamber.
The House's decision came after a review conducted by Strategic Assets Consulting and Fieldstone Consulting Inc. found the program to be both costly and unnecessary with current technology.
The annual cost of the program exceeds $5 million, with the per-page cost in each school year being between $69,000 and $80,000. The original tasks of delivering large numbers of documents and other packages between the Capitol and House office buildings and relaying phone messages to their lawmaker bosses, are now almost entirely transmitted electronically.
The last, and apparently final, House page class was lauded on the House floor August 1, prior to the final-passage vote on the debt ceiling deal and just as Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., made a surprise appearance on the floor to vote in favor of the bill.
"As we all know, the job of a congressional page is not an easy one. Along with being away from home, the pages must possess the maturity to balance competing demands for their time and their energy," said Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., who helps oversee the Page Board, on the House floor. "You pages have witnessed the House debate issues of war and peace, hunger and poverty, justice and civil rights. You have lived through history."
According to the House of Representatives Page Program website, the history of the pages themselves goes back to the first Continental Congress of 1774 (though they were not called "pages" until 1827), when lawmakers began sponsoring young boys, many of them poor and orphaned, for menial work. What started out as small operation grew into a highly competitive program for about 70 teenagers a year.
The recent history of having young people working at the Capitol has not been without controversy. In 1983, Rep. Dan Crane, R-Ill., and Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., were reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee for engaging in sexual relationships with 17-year-old House pages. In Crane's case it involved a female, and in Studds's case a male. Both lawmakers admitted wrongdoing but were not charged with any crime because the age of consent in Washington, D.C., is 16 years old. Crane was defeated in 1984, but Studds was reelected until he retired in 1996. The House Page Board was established after the scandal as a way to monitor the pages.
In 2006, Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., was forced to resign when explicit online communications with former male House pages surfaced. Foley was never charged with any wrongdoing.
By Ben Terris
August 9, 2011