Canton Repository

October 25. 2001

Cramped congressional staff makes do 


WASHINGTON — Ohio lawmakers are trickling back to their offices on Capitol Hill. 

The offices had been closed since the end of last week because of an anthrax scare. Since then, they have had to make do in temporary offices and cubbyholes in or near the U.S. Capitol.

House leaders announced Wednesday night they would reopen two of their buildings, while keeping one closed. Earlier Wednesday, the Senate opened one building, keeping two others closed.

Jim Forbes, spokesman for Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, said no contamination was found in the Cannon and Rayburn House buildings. The third House building, the Longworth, remained closed, awaiting test results.

The office for Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, is in the Rayburn Building. Ney’s is in the Longworth Building.

Prior to learning that his office building would be reopening, Regula spoke of the inconvenience of the past week.

“It’s not so much a matter of space,” said Regula, whose staff is set up in a federal building nine blocks from the Capitol. “Some of our papers with information we need are in our office and you can’t get to it.”

Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, has a temporary office in the same building as Regula, along with most representatives. “It’s very awkward,” he said while meeting with his staff at a restaurant. “You can’t get back and forth from there and still respond to votes.”

As chairman of the House Administration Committee, Ney has overseen the relocation of House members. “It was a smooth transition,” Forbes said. “I think things went very well.”

In many cases, the phones that ring in lawmakers’ closed offices have been forwarded to their local district offices. 

It can be difficult to reach the temporary quarters, where there may be just one phone. A common experience is to call and hear the recording: “I’m sorry, but the person you called has a voice mail box that has not been set up yet.”

The majority of House staff, including Regula’s and Sawyer’s, is set up on two floors in the General Accounting Office headquarters. They have displaced about 1,200 employees there who are doubling up with other staff or working from home.

Senators whose offices are in the Hart and Dirksen buildings had their staffs working out of hideaways in the Capitol or a federal building near Union Station. Those who occupy the Russell Senate Office Building returned when that building reopened Wednesday.

Because he is a member of the Appropriations Committee, Regula has been given a tiny, temporary office in the Capitol. Appropriations is among a handful of House committees with permanent offices in the Capitol. More than a dozen other committees meet in the House office buildings.

Accompanied by one or two aides, Regula has worked out of the Capitol the last two days. He’s attended several briefings, including one from Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who discussed legislation that finances the Labor Department. Regula heads the subcommittee that determines federal spending on labor, health and education programs.

In the GAO building, each congressman has been given two rooms with a phone, laptop computer and printer, and Internet connection. Officially, just three staff members and a congressman are allowed into each office. But as one congressional aide said, “They’re not counting.”

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and his staff are back in their offices in the Russell Building, which was cleared for return Wednesday. Previously, the staff worked out of a small office that DeWine has in the Capitol.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, whose office is in the still-closed Hart Building, sent some of his staff to work in DeWine’s conference room Wednesday. The previous day, when senators resumed their session, Voinovich’s staff worked first from a park bench outside the Capitol and later in a federal building several blocks away.

“We’re making do, we’re not going to be shut down,” said Scott Milburn, spokesman for Voinovich.

House and Senate staff who can’t fit into the temporary offices are at home, working from there when possible.