Space Crunch Lands Staffers in Trailers, Hallways

Posted January 7, 2003 at 3:59pm

Desks have been moved into hallways. Double- and triple-wide trailers have been built on the lawn to accommodate the additional overflow.

It sounds like a scenario being played out at overcrowded schools across the country. But this is the situation in which Congress now finds itself — its long-time space crunch compounded by the construction of the Capitol Visitor Center.

About 2,100 square feet from the second floor of the House side of the Capitol, now occupied by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) leadership office, will need to be vacated by February because of the CVC. Additionally, space in the basement occupied by the Clerk’s office, the staff of the Chief Administrative Officer and some storage and intern areas have already been lost.

Much of the space needed to connect the Capitol to the underground visitor center will come from the East Front extension. The 32-foot extension, which was the last major addition to the building, was built from 1958 to 1962 and now will form the link between old and new. The CVC will fuse with the main building along that corridor, and stairways and elevator shafts will pierce the floors above it.

Although a few Capitol hideaways will be eliminated on the Senate side, the space undoubtedly most affected is Pelosi’s office, which was occupied by then-Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) until he stepped down from his leadership post. All but about five rooms of that office will be eliminated, primarily to make way for a stairwell connecting the top floor of the visitor center to the third floor of the Capitol.

Knowing that his office would be most affected by the construction, Gephardt had come to an understanding with Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) that he would move his leadership office to the first floor, according to a leadership aide. Gephardt had occupied that space when he served as Majority Leader. But when Pelosi took the post she refused that space, according to the source, and insisted on keeping the remaining part of the second-floor suite, even though that meant much of her staff would be dispersed throughout the Capitol.

The second-floor office boasts a grand view of the East Front and includes the Lindy Boggs Room, which serves as a place for female Members to come together and provides one of the only Members-only women’s restroom on the House side. According to the source, Pelosi believes the space is the rightful place of the Democratic leader, as it was built during the tenure of then-Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Texas) and has since been occupied by subsequent Democratic Speakers.

[IMGCAP(1)] But according to a senior GOP leadership aide, Pelosi also asked for 800 square feet more than Gephardt had. And sources on both sides of the aisle said she prolonged the process with frequent objections to the space offered by the Speaker’s office.

“We’re losing a lot of space in the Capitol as it is — everybody is looking at reduced office space,” the GOP aide said. “From a logistical standpoint it was impossible; from a political standpoint it was absurd.

“I don’t know why she thinks she’s entitled to more space when Democrats lost seats.”

Pelosi was given comparable square footage to make up for the 2,100 square feet lost, but it is scattered in a few different places. Her office declined to provide the location of her new space, saying it was still undecided.

Much of the space needs to be painted and carpeted before she moves in February. She will remain in the entire former Gephardt office until her new digs are ready.

As for the other leadership offices, the Speaker will remain in his current Capitol suite. Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) will keep the office he had as Majority Whip, and new Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) will occupy the offices of former Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas). Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has moved into the third-floor office Pelosi occupied when she served in that post.

The first offices to move out of the East Front to make way for construction were from the basement. Staff from the Clerk’s office moved to the double-wide, House-side trailer on the West Front, and CAO staff in the basement moved to the Cannon House Office Building.

According to sources, the triple-wide trailer on the House side will be occupied by the Capitol Guide Service staff by the end of the month. Staff from the Architect of the Capitol’s office will also likely occupy a trailer, either on the House or the Senate side.

The Senate also has five trailers grouped together in groups of two and three. All the trailers have been designed as generically as possible so they can be modified to accommodate different offices’ needs, and they are equipped with restrooms and kitchenettes. The temporary structures will be operational throughout the CVC project, which is scheduled to be completed in January 2005.

Susan Crabtree contributed to this report.