House Page Program Gets an Update

Posted May 4, 2010 at 6:46pm

House officials are slowly restructuring the chamber’s page program, providing more oversight and academic options for the roughly 200 high school students who work for the chamber every year.

The program has undergone several changes since Deputy Clerk Maria Lopez was hired eight months ago to oversee the House Page Program under the direction of Clerk of the House Lorraine Miller. Lopez, who has taught at several schools in the area, filled a position that was created after several controversies raised concerns about the program’s oversight.

“We are very pleased with her. I think all members of the page board are very pleased with her,” said Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), who heads the House Page Board. “It’s always been a good program, but I think now it’s a better program.”

Miller’s office did not return calls this week, and officials from the House Administration Committee did not answer questions about the program by press time. But so far, officials have hired a director of page residential life and are planning to offer an “expanded” academic component for the upcoming summer session, according to Miller’s recent testimony to the House Administration Committee.

During the school year, pages have long taken regular classes such as English and history. But the summers have historically been free of academics, sometimes leaving pages with little to do if the House goes into recess. But Lopez has suggested that the program offer lectures to pages over a four-week period, Kildee said.

Lopez has also updated the page program handbook and the agreement pages sign when they enter the program, among other things, Kildee said. And with Lopez, the page board is “setting a strategic course for the Page Program for the 21st Century,” according to Miller’s past testimony.

“Basically, she’s helping to make sure that these moving parts are coordinated well,” Kildee said, noting that the pages move between House duties, school and dorm life. “I think that coordination is making the system work a lot better.”

The House Page Program is one of the chamber’s oldest institutions, bringing high school students to Washington, D.C., for almost 200 years. Each semester, about 60 high school juniors deliver messages for Members, answer phones in the Cloakroom and work on the House floor. They live in a nearby dorm, attend school in the Library of Congress and get a monthly salary of about $1,700.

But in recent years, the program has undergone several embarrassments, causing House officials to reconsider the structure and oversight of the program.

In 2006, Members discovered that then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) sent lewd messages to some underage pages, leading to his resignation. Two years later, Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) resigned from the House Page Board after criticizing Miller for not promptly informing the board of the expulsions of pages accused of shoplifting and sexual misconduct.

Their complaints led to two investigations: one from the House Inspector General and one from consultants Richard Shapiro and William Weary. Neither report was made public, but both offered several recommendations, including written visitation policies for the pages’ dorm and guidelines for Member-page interactions. The IG also found that supervision at the page residence hall needed “significant improvement” — perhaps leading to the new director of page residential life.

Lopez’s position also came out of the recommendations. For years, the page program had been overseen by several employees in the Clerk’s office, each in charge of different aspects of the pages’ lives and each reporting to the Clerk. Now, Lopez oversees the program and reports to Miller. The idea was to streamline oversight.

“We have all of those moving parts,” Lopez said when she first started on the job in September. “I can take the different components of the program and make sure they’re all aligned.”

In the eyes of the House Page Board, she seems to have been successful thus far. Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.) — one of two Republicans appointed to the board by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to replace Brown-Waite and Capito — said the program was benefiting from more oversight. “Adding some additional oversight and increasing the academic heft of the summer program will definitely help improve the page program,” Foxx said. “I’m glad to see the deputy clerk taking these steps to make positive changes to the page program.”