Pages — Get It Right

Posted December 11, 2007 at 1:54pm

After the terrible mess created by the 2006 Mark Foley page scandal, you would have thought House leaders and appointive officers would see to it that nothing like it ever happens again — rather like the White House pledges following Hurricane Katrina.

Well, wrong and wrong. Just as the Federal Emergency Management Agency still has big problems, so does the House page program. Four teenage pages have been expelled within the past few months, two for shoplifting and two for public sexual misconduct, and the House Page Board’s two Republicans have noisily resigned, charging they were denied appropriate notice of page misdeeds.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is promising a thorough and swift investigation of the page incidents — but not the notice (or lack of it) given to Members on the Page Board by House Clerk Lorraine Miller. Certainly both are called for. After the Foley scandal, we would have thought that revisiting these issues would be unnecessary.

Complaints of non-consultation by Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) echo those made by Democratic members of the Page Board after then-Rep. Foley (R-Fla.) was discovered to have sent lewd e-mails to House pages. When it was revealed that aides to top GOP leaders knew about the exchanges, the flap contributed to Republicans losing control of the House.

The Page Board was restructured and Miller claimed in a statement that the four dismissals reflect the “significant reform measures” and “zero tolerance policy” instituted over the page program. Yet, even Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), chairman of the Page Board, acknowledges that his colleagues were kept in the dark about the shoplifting incident, and a significant number of pages seem to have witnessed the two dismissed pages engaging in oral sex on more than one occasion, indicating an absence of adequate supervision of the page dorm.

Capito and Brown-Waite both were informed of the sex case expulsions in a timely manner, but chose to resign from the board in a way designed to attract maximum publicity to the controversy. Capito complains that she is still not satisfied with the way House administrators are communicating with the Page Board and Brown-Waite objects to security arrangements at the page dorm. We’d suggest that these are reasons to work for further reforms, not quit the board, unless Pelosi’s promises come to naught.

A little like hurricanes, a program that invites teenagers to work in Washington without close parental supervision is subject to intermittent peril. Yet, for 177 years the page program has served Congress well and given tens of thousands of young people an opportunity to learn about government at close hand. The program needs careful oversight — both from House administrators and Members — to reduce the possibility of misconduct to an absolute minimum. And it’s imperative that administrators communicate with Members in the process, regardless of party.