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Paging the United States House Representatives: Bring Back the Pages

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Benjamin Deitchman
January 31, 2021

As our Capitol and our nation heal from the violence of January 6, 2021, it is time to return the page program to the United States House of Representative. As a former House page during the summer of 2000, this tragedy unfolded on live television in the halls, corridors and on the floor where I had the privilege of learning and exploring. Although it appears that the staff and contractors of the Architect of the Capitol have already repaired much of the immediate physical damage, the psychological scars of the images of insurrection will persist in our global consciousness. It would be in the interest of good public policy and public administration to return the eager, uniformed teenagers to the House chamber, as it will help symbolically restore some history, majesty and idealism to Congress.

The bipartisan decision of the House of Representative to terminate the page program in 2011 reflected the disgraceful failures of the members of Congress and their immoral behavior towards children in their presence. The most infamous page scandal related to Representative Mark Foley of Florida and his sexually explicit electronic communications to these minor House employees, which resulted in the end of his political career in 2006. Other circumstances outside of the page program, such as the conviction of the pedophile former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, exposed Congress’s inability to care for teenagers within its hallowed halls, even as the official reasons cited for shuttering the program were logistical and financial. There were clear flaws in the administration of the program, but perhaps the American people would hold the House in a higher regard if Congress could get its act together and protect the pages. Legislative results might even improve if the representatives could modify their behavior enough to make the House chamber a safe place for kids.

Technology has altered the need to have messengers such as pages working on the House floor, in the cloakrooms right off the floor and throughout the Capitol complex, and yet the United States Senate still employs pages to deliver documents and other tasks. The role of the legislative page dates back centuries. Twenty years ago representatives would, from time to time, send a page to run a cellphone back from the floor to the members’ offices, a relatively modern page task that already seems antiquated. The page program, with the cost of page residency and schooling, is not the most efficient administrative setup for its communication and courier services in the 21st century. In Congress, however, tradition can trump technological efficiency. The quaint quirks of the legislative process are part and parcel of the perceived legitimacy of public policy and public administration. Restoring this tradition and bringing back the youngest employees of the House of Representatives is a small but meaningful opportunity to revitalize the corridors of Congress.

The biggest flaw of the page program in its earlier incarnation was that more students could not participate. Pages served during the school year or over the summer. But with fewer than 100 positions available at a time and a convoluted application process that involved Congressional offices, it was a limited opportunity. For those of us fortunate enough to live in the Congressional district of the representative who served as chair of the page program or otherwise found one’s way into the program, whether by merit or political connections, it was a formative experience. If watching Congress consider legislation is watching the sausage get made, the pages lived and worked in the heart of the sausage factory. On a daily basis pages we were learning directly from our nation’s leaders and their key aides. This was the ultimate experiential education within the Federal government.

Serving as a page was a paid job, with the rules and responsibilities of any workplace. It was also a place for a diverse group of teenagers from across the country to come together and grow. Pages built on their time in Congress by going on to work in government or pursue other endeavors, such as co-founding Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The social experience built a love of government and its institutions that pages could share in their communities when they returned home. The House of Representatives could use the goodwill and positive public relations of the page program.

We will never forget the events of January 6, 2021. The 1954 terrorist shooting from the House gallery still seemed raw, even when I was a page nearly a half century later. Bringing back the page program will not fix the underlying issues of American society, but the time to import more innocence and youthful exuberance into our legislative workspace seems right. There are reforms for the program that the House of Representatives should consider, such as rotating in more pages and finding new tasks to overcome the obsolescence of earlier page work, but this seems like a chance for bipartisan collaboration. The images of the uniformed kids on the back of the floor could be calming and comforting for a Congress and nation in need.            


Author: Benjamin Deitchman is a public policy practitioner in Atlanta, Georgia. He was a United State House of Representatives Page in 2000. Dr. Deitchman’s email address is DeitchmanB at gmail dot com and “Deitchman” is where to find him on Twitter.

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