House Ends Page Program
After nearly 200 years, the House of Representatives is ending the a program that allowed High School students to see politics close up:
WASHINGTON — In the more than 175 years since young people began coming to Washington to work as Capitol messengers, the experience of being a Congressional page has marked the start — and on occasion the scandalous end — of many a political career.
Now the ubiquitous teenage pages, with their navy blue blazers and earnest looks, will disappear from the House side of the Capitol — a victim, House leaders said Monday, of budget cuts and improvements in technology, like BlackBerrys, that have rendered their document-ferrying and message-taking duties obsolete.
The announcement came in a “Dear Colleague” letter to lawmakers from Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, and the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, who said they decided to terminate the program after a review by outside consultants raised concerns about its costs and effectiveness.
The news caught alumni of the program, including current and former members of Congress, by surprise. Many called it short-sighted. (The pages will not disappear from the Capitol entirely; the Senate will still have them.)
“There was no consultation by the leadership with the members,” complained Representative John D. Dingell, the Michigan Democrat and longest-serving member of the House, who was a page in the late 1930s and early 1940s. “It is removing a wonderful opportunity for a lot of youngsters to participate in their government, where they could actually learn how the country runs.”
In their letter released Monday, the leaders said the outside review calculated the total annual costs of the program at more than $5 million, not including capital costs associated with the page dormitory and school. The annual cost of educating each of the 72 pages runs as much as $80,000 per year, the study found — far more than college tuition.
While “dozens of pages were once needed on the House floor to deliver a steady stream of phone messages” to lawmakers, the leaders wrote, most members of Congress now rely on their mobile phones for instant communication. Documents, too, are transmitted electronically, leaving some pages without enough to do, the letters said.
It seemed like a nice opportunity for young people, but if we’re at the point where these pages are no longer needed (one former page quoted in the article said it was often the case that they had nothing to do), then eliminating the program seems to me like the wise thing to do.
Interestingly, as noted above, the Senate will still maintain its Page program. But, then, Senators probably can’t deign themselves to check a Blackberry.