Stepping up to the Hill: a page’s life

Before last week, many might not have known what a Congressional page’s job was on the Hill – let alone their role in a sex scandal. Despite all this excitement, many GW alumni of the program remember the day-to-day routine.

For Congressional pages, there is no such thing as a typical day on Capitol Hill. The high school juniors who participate in the page program during the academic year spend most of their time in a bubble – living, going to school and working on the Hill.

For the students who are pages during the school year, the day begins at the crack of dawn. They leave their dorm in Southeast D.C. to be in class at 6:45 a.m. Pages take typical junior year classes such as pre-calculus, English and U.S. history, but their classroom is far from ordinary – it’s housed in the attic of the Library of Congress.

“We would get up early, grab a quick breakfast in the page dorm and quickly scribble our homework that was due before class,” said Laura Greenwood, a junior who served as a page from September 2003 to June 2004 and was sponsored by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.).

When Congress is in session, classes end around 10 a.m. and the pages divide by parties and report to their respective offices. The day could end any time between 3 and 9 p.m.

“When the day was over, we would grab dinner and go home, and then it became a typical high school dorm,” Greenwood said. “Everyone hung out in the common room, watched TV or went to the study lounge before curfew and bed check.”

The job’s credentials

While their schedules may be similar, not all pages are alike. Mike Keough, a junior who was sponsored by Rep. Todd Aiken (R-Mo.) in the summer of 2003, spent most of his time as a page working on the floor of Congress.

“The floor pages sat on the floor and collected comments from members of Congress and brought them to the clerk in the front. Also, we ran errands for members of Congress who would call the phone at the page desk,” he said.

Other pages, known as cloakroom pages, are assigned to memorize all 435 House members’ names and faces so that they can deliver messages to them during sessions and votes.

Some pages serve as runners who bring proposed legislation from Congressional offices to the “hopper,” a box on the floor where the new bills are placed for official submission. Documentarian pages are responsible for raising a flag that notifies the public that Congress is in session and for ringing the bell that alerts members of Congress that a session has begun.

Others are in charge of running flags that constituents pay for to be flown over the Capitol, while Kaitlyn Funk, a sophomore who was a page sponsored by Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-N.H.) in the summer of 2004, was responsible for hand-delivering copies of the 9/11 Commission Report to the members of Congress.

Being a part of something special

Although the work was sometimes tedious, the former pages said they feel lucky they were first-hand witnesses to momentous events and votes.

Greenwood attended the 2004 State of the Union address and said she was amazed by the energy in the room.

“I hated the State of the Union when I was a little girl because it interrupted regular television,” she said, “I was so impressed to see the Joint Chiefs of Staff there, and the president even shook my hand after the speech.”

One thing Greenwood said she will never forget is being in lock-down for the entire month of October during her page stint because of the sniper shooting in D.C. “We literally didn’t see daylight for a month,” she said.

The pages were bused from their dorm to the Library of Congress before the sun was even up. They used the underground tunnels to get to work and were inside all day. After sunset, they were bused back to their dorm, where they stayed until the next day when the process started all over.

Getting the gig

Now, there are 45 Republican and 18 Democratic Congressional pages. Sally Collins, press secretary for the Committee on House Administration who helps oversee the page application process, said letters of recommendation, high school transcripts and resumes are all part of the application.

The Congressmen and women then review the applications and send their nominations to the Speaker of the House (for the majority party) and House Minority Leader (for the minority party), who review them and select the pages.

At the start of each program, the pages go through orientation, where they are given instructions on security and how to behave both in and out of work.

“When you spend all of your time on the Hill, you can live in a fishbowl,” Greenwood said. “You have to be very cautious because things aren’t always what they seem.”

She recalls a time when she and a group of pages went to dinner at a restaurant on Capitol Hill. The hostess asked them to wait by the bar for their table.

“We had to tell them that we couldn’t because if someone would have recognized us, they may have gotten the wrong idea,” Greenwood said.

All the pages agree that their experience living and working in D.C. heavily influenced their decision to come to school in this city.

“The page program was the deciding factor when it came to college,” Funk said. “I had a lot of exposure to D.C., and it was the best experience of my life.”

Foley’s impact

Following the current sex scandal between former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fl.) and a former page, there has been talk of abolishing the page program. Matt LeBeau, a sophomore who was a page for Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said that he is angry about the talk.

“I wasn’t shocked when I heard about it,” he said, although he admits that he never interacted with Foley since he was a Democratic page. “This is not the first scandal that has ripped through the page program.”

Greenwood, however, was surprised, and said she always knew Foley as a very nice man. She said Foley did the right thing by stepping down and accepting responsibility for his actions.

“I am going to be very disappointed if they disband the page program,” Greenwood said. Greenwood said she thinks there was nothing more the program could have done to prevent the scandal.

“They addressed sexual harassment at orientation, and we knew how to behave around other pages, staffers, all the way up to the members of Congress.”

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