House Briefings Offer Help for Departing Members

Posted November 1, 2004 at 6:36pm

For some Members, the time has come to move on, but the question on the lips of many departing lawmakers and their staffs is, “Where do I go from here?”

As the 108th Congress winds down, the House is here to help. It offers monthly briefings for staff and Members detailing closing-down procedures, covering everything from what to do with Congressional office papers to where to turn in parking permits.

“There’s just so much stuff you need to know, I think virtually every office takes advantage,” Brian Walsh, spokesman for House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), said of the briefings.

So far, three briefings have been held since August. The final briefing for the end of this Congress will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Friday in Room 2168 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

While the briefings are open to Members, more times than not a staff member is sent to acquire the information, such as checklists for closing down the Members’ offices in D.C. and in their districts. Regardless of who in the office attends, Lindy Salem, executive assistant for Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), said, “You’re going to be lost if you don’t.”

The House checklists for vacating the office include various services that need to be extended, terminated or transferred, such as payroll, data files, mail services and voice mail. In addition, Members and staff also have to return all BlackBerrys, laptops, cellphones, calling cards, parking permits and ID cards. House Support Services conducts a final inventory of equipment for all departing Member offices following the elections.

Despite having to be out of their Washington, D.C., offices by noon on Dec. 1, Members have the option of remaining on the Hill for just a while longer. Temporary workspace is available in the Rayburn House Office Building and can be obtained by filling out a request form.

“We are getting one of the cubicles in Rayburn,” said Elizabeth Burks, chief of staff for Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas). “Our phones will at least roll over there for a while.”

Burks said the archiving of information has been taking place since early summer, and staff members are throwing out things that are no longer needed or that cannot be archived. Members are encouraged by the Office of the Clerk to donate their Congressional office papers to a university, college, historical society or public policy center. Turner will be donating his papers to his alma mater, the University of Texas.

“If you walked in, you’d be surprised,” Burks said of Turner’s office. “Bookshelves and everything are much more bare.”

However, not every office has been quick to get a head start on packing. Salem said the closing-down process “hasn’t really begun yet” in Smith’s office, but things will pick up once the election is over. That will leave the staff with a little less than a month to get everything done before vacating the office.

“Everyone obviously is riding out the election,” said Judd Crapa, chief of staff for Rep. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.). “You sort of go from there — try to wrap everything up nice and neatly.”

While preparing to vacate the office is “a process that kind of moves itself,” Crapa said that so far, McCarthy has been “intensely private” about it, packing up things on her own.

Walsh said Members tend to vacate their offices, both in D.C. and their districts, at various times between the end of November and early December, which leaves time for offices to be refurbished for incoming Members. Once Election Day is over, most departing Members’ offices will switch into high gear to prepare for closing.

“We will continue to dot our I’s and cross our T’s in closing up,” Crapa said.

Some departing Members are toying with the option of taking a piece of their office with them when they leave. Members’ desks and chairs are the only two items they have the opportunity to purchase and take from their office.

Another important item in departing Members’ offices is their staffs. If they want to stay on the Hill, the House is looking to help them, too.

Walsh said in addition to information about closing down the offices, the briefings also help with staff transition. The House offers a résumé referral service for those staffers scoping out another Hill job, and help on how to write a cover letter, among other things, is offered as well.

Burks has been on the Hill since 1992 and with Turner since he came into office in January 1997. While she said she enjoys being on the Hill, she now has an 8-month-old son, so she is looking for something that will allow her to spend more time with him.

However, more time on the Hill is exactly what both Salem and Crapa said they are hoping for once their Members leave office.

“I don’t have employment secured yet,” Salem said. “I would put my résumé in the book, but I’m hoping I don’t have to do that.”