House’s New Cubicles a Welcome Change

Posted October 24, 2003 at 5:20pm

The hodgepodge collection of furniture that decorates many Capitol Hill offices — from desks with missing drawer handles to makeshift dividers — will soon begin to disappear as House officials embark on a program to replace nearly 8,000 workstations.

The new furniture is designed to accommodate computers, phones and other common office equipment, unlike many of the current desks and shelving units that have been in use for more than 30 years.

The program, expected to take up to eight years to fully implement, will provide new furniture to about 65 House offices each year through the standard office-space lottery system. Although an estimate of the project’s total cost was not available, an initial three-year contract with Trammell Crow Co. is valued at $7 million.

Members will not be required to replace their current furniture, but House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) said he expects most offices will take advantage of the program. “A lot of items in the staff offices are junk,” he acknowledged.

While the new desks are the cubicle style now common in many business offices, the furniture is constructed of a mix of wood laminate and solid wood, in an attempt to maintain the classical style of House offices.

Unlike much of the current furniture, the modular replacements provide staffers with moveable baskets, files and individual cabinets.

“The biggest problem in so many offices is space,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for House Administration.

Staff in Rep. John Doolittle’s (R-Calif.) Rayburn Building office — outfitted with the furniture after taking part in a pilot program conducted by the House Administration panel — praised the upgrade, noting that new cubicle units provide more privacy for staffers, as well as “a more coherent look” for the office.

“Everyone has said it enables you to keep [your desk] neater,” said Doolittle spokeswoman Laura Blackann.

According to a “Dear Colleague” letter announcing the program, the new furniture is also designed to alleviate work-related injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Members’ personal offices will not be included in the upgrade, Ney said, noting that many of the items in those spaces are better quality, including some hand-crafted items.

“We didn’t want to get rid of all that,” he said.

Once a pilot program testing the installation and removal of furniture is completed, House offices, as well as leadership, committee and support staff, will be assigned priority through the traditional lottery system.

The used furniture will be returned to the General Services Administration, although pieces in good condition may be redistributed to House offices for use until they receive the modular furniture.