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For Capitol, Sad News Travels Fast

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
In an unusual instance, when former Sen. George McGovern died, many people on Capitol Hill were notified by the tributes on Sunday morning talk shows.

“The Clerk’s office monitors on a daily basis news soaurces for biographical details that need to be updated,” the House Administration Committee aide said. “Typically, the passing of a former Member is not updated on their official bio until it’s reported and documented. … Once it’s reported, then it’s immediately updated,” the aide continued.

“It’s kind of an ongoing process,” Koed said. “For some Senators, especially ones who have been away for a number of years and living in, say, Arizona, we do regular searches of local media,” she said. 

In this sense, these historical offices operate like the obituary desk at a newspaper, doing regular searches, checking in with sources, keeping an open line of communication with the public and relying on institutional memory to guide them on where their people of interest reside and the state of the former Members’ health. 

Decisions about whether to fly flags at half-staff or whether to have a public service in the Capitol’s common areas are made by leadership offices. 

“Rooms can be reserved by any Senator,” the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms spokesperson said of facilities in office buildings or the Capitol Visitor Center, for instance. “But if you’re referring to something in common space, that [is] a joint leadership decision.”

After funeral services on Friday in Sioux Falls, S.D., McGovern will be laid to rest in Washington, D.C., at Rock Creek Cemetery, next to his late wife, Eleanor. 

It is a ceremony in which the Senate will play no formal role, per the family’s wishes, according to the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms spokesperson: “That’s private.” 

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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