Moran Offers Bill to Keep Staff-Directed Hill Tours

Capitol Guide Service Is Slated to Take Over

Posted November 12, 2007 at 6:33pm

The battle over the future of staff-led Capitol tours appears headed for the House floor.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) introduced a bill Friday to ensure the long-standing tours continue once the Capitol Visitor Center opens in fall 2008.

It’s the latest in a series of moves by Members to keep the tours, which officials from both the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol’s office have suggested should be altered when the CVC opens next year.

“Staff-led tours are a tradition,” said Austin Durrer, a Moran spokesman. “They provide constituents with a personalized experience led by their voice in Washington. These tours strengthen and deepen the people’s connection with our great democracy.”

Under current recommendations by the AOC and Capitol Police, employees with the Capitol Guide Service would be charged with leading all tours of the Capitol, and all would begin in the CVC itself. Congressional staffers would be allowed to accompany constituents through the Capitol, stopping to point out key statues or monuments.

In that sense, tours wouldn’t be so much “staff-led” as “staff-hosted.”

There are two main reasons for those recommendations, supporters argue. Official guides can provide more accurate, in-depth information to visitors, and they also are better-trained to assist police should an emergency or other incident take place.

But dozens of Members in both chambers remain concerned that if the current version of staff-led tours vanish, an important constituent link could be lost.

“The CVC is designed to enhance the experience of a Capitol tour,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who signed on as a co-sponsor to Moran’s bill. “Eliminating the direct connection to Members of Congress would do the opposite.”

According to the Moran legislation, staff-led tours “allow for smaller, more personalized tours” and “provide constituents a closer look at the work of the Member’s office.”

“Explicitly limiting Capitol tours to just 1 provider, United States Capitol Guide Service, will severely limit a constituent’s experience of their Representative’s congressional office,” the measure reads.

Reps. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), John Duncan (R-Tenn.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) also are co-sponsors of the measure.

Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, has been vocal in her opposition to eliminating the tours. She’ll likely take up the issue again on Wednesday, when she oversees a CVC oversight hearing that is expected to address the future of the tours.

“Staff-led tours are an essential way for our constituents to directly connect with their own Member of Congress while visiting our nation’s capital,” Wasserman Schultz said on Monday. “If they are not preserved, the vast majority of citizens will miss a special opportunity to be served by the person who represents them in Washington, D.C.”

Moran’s bill was referred to the House Administration Committee, which took up the issue during a hearing last month.

Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.), said Monday that the issue remains under consideration.

“Chairman Brady remains committed to implementing a tour strategy that allows us to meet the needs and wishes of Members while still ensuring the safety and security of the millions of visitors to the Capitol,” Anderson said.

Capuano, who sits on the House Administration panel, was very vocal in defending the tours during last month’s hearing.

While Capuano maintained he is sympathetic about the need to secure the Capitol, he said he does not want Members to develop a bunker mentality when it comes to visitors. If current plans are implemented, his staff would continue giving tours anyway, Capuano said.

But there are distinct advantages to the “staff-hosted” plan, Terrie Rouse, the chief executive officer of the CVC, told the panel.

Once the CVC opens, Capitol tours are expected to take more than two hours. That’s a long time for staffers to be pulled away from their other duties. But if professional guides manage the tours, staffers can meet with constituents during the tour instead, Rouse said.

The House isn’t the only chamber focused on staff-led tours. Dozens of Senators also have expressed their opposition to altering the current form of the tours.

In October, a bipartisan group of 41 Senators sent acting Architect Stephen Ayers a letter asking him to ensure that staff-led tours continue once the CVC opens in November 2008.

“The feedback we receive from our constituents prove that this service is among the most appreciated and educational of the Washington, D.C. experience,” the Oct. 19 letter reads.