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A multigenerational cadre of former House pages gathered Friday on Capitol Hill, intent on convincing lawmakers to reinstate the 200-year-old program that Democratic and Republican leadership shuttered in August.
Technological advances have rendered the pages redundant and ending the program for high school juniors would save $5 million annually, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said when they announced their decision.
But page program alumni wonder whether there were other motivations. They argue that the program was relatively inexpensive and that Pelosi noted a manpower gap last week, when she announced a Democratic Cloakroom internship initiative that launches in October.
"Technological advances and cost seem to be only part of the rationale for making their decision to end the program," said Carlos DeLaTorre, a former page leading the lobbying effort for legislation introduced by Democratic Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.) and John Dingell (Mich.) that would task a committee with reviving the program.
Ken Archer and other former pages on the Hill on Friday said they believe Pelosi and Boehner had other concerns in mind — namely that the high school juniors were becoming a liability.
"It definitely seems to me that the real reason they stopped the program was to avoid scandals," he said.
The page program erupted in controversy in 2006, when then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigned following revelations that he had engaged in sexually explicit online correspondence with male House pages. Then, in 2008, the House inspector general found the program needed to significantly improve its supervision of adult personnel at the residence halls. The investigation was launched after four pages were expelled in 2007, two for shoplifting and two for allegedly engaging in sexual acts in the dorm elevator.
After these incidents, Democratic and Republican leadership began to formally review the program and consider whether it was worth keeping, according to a former member of the House Page Oversight Board who was closely involved in discussions surrounding the program's future.
"I have no doubt in my mind that if it had not been for the elevator situation, everything would have been fine and dandy," said the former board member, who is also a former page. "As long as everyone could have sat back and not seen any problems since the Foley scandal, it would have been OK."
A consulting firm also produced a report on the program, but few outside the leadership ranks have seen it.
"I am certainly going to ask to see that report," said Boren, a former page. "If it's just a question of money, we can come up with that money, through foundations and grants and that sort of thing."