In some of yesterday's editions, the running total of money donated to Bob Levey's Send a Kid to Camp campaign did not appear. The running total as of July 20 was $175,812.60. (Published 7/24/87)

No, it wouldn't buy a B-1 bomber, or even half of one wing. But $80,736 a year still sounds to me like a lot of money. Especially when it's being spent for a service that's unnecessary.

But the House of Representatives doesn't think the same way as you or me. Last month, 235 members decided to spend that 80 grand on a Washington tradition -- elevator operators.

The operators work in the Rayburn and Cannon House Office Buildings, as operators have for nearly 100 years. The six current operators in Rayburn and Cannon are all students or disabled persons. All are appointed by members of Congress (translation: the jobs are patronage). Each operator earns $13,456 a year for a 30-hour week.

And what is the work they do? They punch buttons in the Rayburn and Cannon elevators that anyone with at least one finger could punch for himself.

A six-year-old could take one look at these operators and recognize that they aren't needed. The operators themselves have said the same.

But when Rep. Patrick Swindall (R-Ga.) tried to strike the operators' salaries from the budget on the floor of the House, he got buried by his colleagues in a roll call vote, 235 to 141. And he got buried even though he made it clear that the present six operators wouldn't lose their jobs. They just wouldn't be replaced when they leave.

Swindall's opponents argued that they need operators so they can reach the House floor quickly in time to vote.

They argued that 90 percent of the elevator operator positions in House office buildings have been cut since 1977, so why cut further?

They argued that lost-sheep tourists (translation: home folks who vote) need to be taken care of when they visit Rayburn or Cannon.

And they argued that Swindall's proposal was an attempt by a Republican to embarrass the House Democratic leadership politically.

Swindall's proposal deserved a much better fate. But it can't get one until next year at this time, when a new budget comes before the House.

So humans will continue to push buttons in the elevators of Rayburn and Cannon. And $80,000 will be tossed down the drain. And we Washington lifers will wonder yet again what it takes to change obvious flaws in the legislative landscape.

The shame of it is not just the wasted bucks. The shame of it is that 235 members of the House can't see a few simple facts.

Fact One: It will not take members any longer to reach the House floor by automated elevator than it now takes by human-ated elevator. In fact, an automated elevator may get members there more quickly. If members miss votes, it's because they try to squeeze in one more phone call in their offices, not because the elevator system can't function without a human at the controls.

Fact Two: It's wonderful that 90 percent of the elevator operator positions have been cut since 1977. But why stop there? Ten percent waste is still waste.

Fact Three: The guards in Rayburn and Cannon give tourists all the help they'll ever need. In fact, if I were a tourist, and I got on an elevator that was being needlessly run by a human, I wouldn't feel taken care of. I'd feel ripped off.

Fact Four: There isn't always dark political motivation behind every legislative proposal. Patrick Swindall was zinged during the floor debate by a Democratic colleague, who said Swindall should cut defense spending if he wants to save money. But why should Swindall have to choose? He should vote to cut unnecessary spending wherever he can. He doesn't deserve the cynical back of the hand because he concentrated on $80,000 first and $2 trillion second.


For the last two months, you readers have been making your presence felt with contributions to our annual drive on behalf of 1,200 underprivileged local kids. More than half of those kids have already gone to camp this summer, thanks to the money you generous people have given.

But now comes Tough Time -- the final eight days of the campaign, when we find out whether we will meet our goal, or merely come close.

If you haven't contributed to the campaign yet, I urge you to, if you possibly can. A donation of any size will help a great deal. Remember that the kids we help can go to camp only if we pay their way. If strangers help them, kids remember. Our community can only be stronger as a result.


Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.


In hand as of July 20: $175,812.60.

Our goal: $220,000.