. . . "Face it: Here, you've got American government at its visual best -- the marble, the columns, the rotundas, the sweeping staircases . . . . You've got goals, you've got commitments, you've got aspirations, and inspirations. You've got history, and tradition . . . .
But have you got a place to sit?"
-- From a guide for members of Congress distributed by the Congressional Management Foundation
Coming into this week's congressional lottery for new offices on Capitol Hill, Rep. Frederick Boucher and his staff knew one thing for certain: they could hardly do worse than the Virginia Democrat's current quarters, Longworth 1723.
"Everyone is sitting in everyone else's lap, plus we have the congressman in our laps also," said Brooke Ramey, Boucher's press secretary, who is squeezed next to four other staffers in a tiny compartment on the seventh floor of Longworth. "I know all of the administrative assistant's personal business, and he knows all of mine.
"The other thing I can't understand is how the cockroaches get up to such a high floor," she added, reflecting on a familiar Hill problem. "Of course, I did see one riding up the elevator this morning."
After two years of excruciatingly cramped conditions, and the inconvenience of a separate suite down the hall for the legislative staff, Boucher and his aides approached this week's lottery with a zealous sense of mission. With blueprints of the Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn House office buildings in hand, two aides were dispatched last week on an eight-hour tour of 40 offices, enabling the congressman to draw up a list of his top 11 choices.
Boucher and about 70 other members of the class of 1982 entered the lottery on Tuesday, and the southwest Virginian clearly had luck on his side. He drew his ninth choice, and his staff drew a sigh of relief in anticipation of the move to a suite on the fourth floor of Cannon.
Held every two years, the congressional office lottery provides the only glimmer of hope for members of Congress who want to shift from virtually unbearable conditions to ones that are, even in the best cases, merely uncomfortable. The system is based on seniority, with the longest serving members of Congress given first crack at offices vacated by retiring and defeated colleagues. In turn, those senior members' offices are thrown into a pool for the next class of Congress members, and so on.
For the 43 newly elected members, who have their own lottery to divide the leftovers, there is no chance of a coveted office in the newer and larger Rayburn building, and virtually certain exile in the highly undesirable Longworth building, where the rooms are small and the elevators notoriously slow.
"Rayburn offices are generally bigger and indeed are the most popular," says Elliot Carroll, executive assistant to the Capitol Architect, who organizes the lotteries. "Other factors have to do with where committee rooms are, and how close the office is to the subway leading from Rayburn to the Capitol ."
Most members of Congress have staffs of as many as 18 people, usually crammed into an area of about 1,100 square feet. The average working space for a Hill staffer is 30 square feet, compared with 64 square feet for comparable employes in the private sector, according to a report by the Congressional Management Foundation, which enlisted several experts this year to study space problems in Congress. The cramped quarters are partly the result of a massive increase in paper work and office equipment, as well as bigger staffs that are needed to handle an ever-growing number of constituent problems.
"I've been in Washington for 18 years and I had this vision of beau tiful offices with a view of the Capitol," says space consultant Sandra Ragan, president of the Friday Design Group, who spent a week inspecting conditions on the Hill. "They are beautiful buildings but they are not built for the density."
The crowding has tapped the creative potential of many Hill staffs. Bathrooms in Longworth have been converted into rooms for computer printers or copying machines. Bookshelves are often on the edges of desks serving as artificial walls. Lacking space for meetings, many staffs use the member's office for private discussions.
Rep. Bob Edgar (D-Pa.) has come up with one of the most unusual arrangements. Edgar gave up the large space normally reserved for the members and divided it into a work space for six of his staffers. He has a desk in a tiny room in the middle of his suite in the Rayburn building.
While some area members from Maryland and Virginia harbored hopes of switching into larger suites, only Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) had a high enough lottery number to make a change. He is moving from Cannon to Longworth to be closer to his committee rooms.
At the top of the draw this year was Rep. John J. Duncan (R-Tenn.), now in his 10th term, who will be ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee. He will move in Rayburn from 2458 to 2206.
"We'll be closer to the committee room and we'll have a view of the Capitol," said Duncan's press secretary Patrick Willard. "We'll have a lot more visitors . . . . so it's good to have a new office and a new look."