Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Monday that the House will do away with its page program, a storied tradition that has brought young people to work in the Capitol for nearly as long as Congress itself has been an institution.
Citing high costs and advances in technology that have reduced the need for the program, the Ohio Republican and the California Democrat said in a joint statement that the program — which costs the House more than $5 million, or about $69,000 to $80,000 per page — is outdated.
"We have great appreciation for the unique role that Pages have played in the history and traditions of the House of Representatives," the statement read. "This decision was not easy, but it is necessary due to the prohibitive cost of the program and advances in technology that have rendered most Page-provided services no longer essential to the smooth functioning of the House.
"Although the traditional mission of the Page Program has diminished, we will work with Members of the House to carry on the tradition of engaging young people in the work of the Congress."
Reaction to the decision has been passionate.
Former Clerk of the House Donnald Anderson, who was a House page in 1960 and later oversaw the program as clerk from 1983 to 1995, said from his home in Sacramento that he would protest the decision if he were in Washington, D.C.
"I'm appalled and devastated by it. I think it's the most wonderful opportunity a young person in America possibly could have," Anderson said. "People often look at the bottom line, rather than the long term or overall good. It's just another piece of history that's being eliminated."
Rep. Dan Boren, who got his start as a page to then-Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), was also upset.
"That's terrible," the Oklahoma Democrat said. "Even though there have been some unfortunate events that have occurred, for the most part I think the page program has been very valuable."
In 2006, Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigned after it was revealed that he had sent lewd Internet and text messages to pages. In 1983, ex.-Reps. Dan Crane (R-Ill.) and Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) were reprimanded for engaging in sexual conduct with teenage pages.
There have also been numerous instances in which pages were caught drinking alcohol or using other substances.
But House Leaders did not mention any of these problems in their decision to eliminate the program.
Instead, the statement said an independent review of the program by Strategic Assets Consulting and Fieldstone Consulting Inc. found that electronic technology makes the page job of delivering messages between House buildings and the Capitol obsolete.
"Pages, once stretched to the limit delivering large numbers of documents and other packages between the U.S. Capitol and House office buildings, are today rarely called upon for such services, since most documents are now transmitted electronically," according to the release.