In a little-trafficked area on the House side of the Capitol, just a minute or two walk from the House floor, are six offices with magnificant panoramic views of the Mall, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in the distance.
In the Capitol, where any office space close to the House floor is valued property, it came as a shock last October to Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D.N.Y.) to learn these offices and a dozen nearby (both with and without views) were part of a 50-office Capitol fiefdom occupied by employees of the Architect of the Capitol, George M. White.
Three months later, Holtzman is still one of the few House members aware that the offices, on what is called the Capital's terrace level, even exist.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D. Mass), for example, said Friday that he had never heard of the architect's offices on the terrace level, below the Capitol. "But now I am going to look," O'Neill said.
O'Neill controls all House space assignments as chairman of the House Building Commission. And if anyone ran dislodge the architect's employees, it is the Speaker.
Control of Capitol space is handled in mysterious ways. Last fall the architect was prepared to give up selected Terrace offices "sometimes in the spring or summer of 1977," according to a letter written in November.
A spokesman for the architect said Monday, however, the last year's proposal was made to former Speaker Carl Albert - and not acted upon. The same proposition has not yet been put to O'Neill.
Asked which offices were involved, the spokesman declined to specify without "the Speaker approval."
Holtzman first learned of the architect's offices while chairing the House Commission on Information and Facilities subcommittee that late last year looked into the tight office space situation for House members. A top priority of the commission was to find off-the-floor space that members could use for private work while the House was in session.
On the Senate side, that program issolved by giving 56 senior members one-room hideway offices in spaces near the Senate floor.
Nothing comparable exists for House members. Today most House members or their staffers are forced to run back and forth from the Capitol to the House office buildings across the street when votes are being taken and members must be on or near the floor.
White, not surprisingly, has balked ar moving his people.
In a November letter to the facilities commission chairman, Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) the architect wrote that the terrace offices being used by his staff "provided equally critical services for the Congress."
A recent look at the architect's terrace holdings shows that one entire row of sunny space facing an inner courtyard is occupied by draftsmen. The offices with the spectacular Washington view are filled with the architect's payroll personnel, files and members of his purchasing department.
In one office, six purchasing officers sit at desks that face a blank wall with their backs to the graceful, half circle window through which the city can be seen.
The architect's Capitol office Empire extends beyond the terrace.
In the basement floor of the Capitol, just a few steps up from the terrace, is another little-known nest of sunny, house-side offices filled with White's people.
These face an inner courtyard. One room, hig enough to provide work space for a member, contains only filing cabinets. An adjoining larger, high-ceilinged office is occupied by the architect's administrative officer, the man who works up his budget presentations. Next door is a suite occupied by the architect's art and reference division. Across the hall is the architect's personnel office.
The Joint Committee on Printing has since 1895 occupied the room next to the architect's personnel staff. "White has been trying to get my space for some, time," Lawrence Kennedy of the joint committee said last week.
Kennedy, whose office is just minutes from the House floor, is responsible for putting out the Congressional Directory, a reference work published annually listing members, committee assignments, staffs and other data.
One other room in this basement area that faces onto the inner court is controlled by the House International Relations Committee and, according to a Capitol Hill aide, in the past had been used by its former chairman, Rep. Thomas Morgan (D-Pa.), who retired last year.
Before that, the aide said, the room was used by President Ford's staff when Ford was House minority leader. It went to the International Relations Committee when the panel swapped committee space on the Capitol's first floor with Ford's successor.
Swaps such as that and other types of office assignments were termed "haphazard, wasteful and unimaginative," by the House commission unit on office space.
In a December letter to Brooks. Holtzman insisted that the architect's terrace and other Capitol office space offered some solution to the House members' need for space.
The commission's final report reflected her view. It suggested "that space on the terrace level of the House side of the Capitol now occupied by personnel of the architect's office be reviewed for possible reassignment for the use of members and committees."
In those offices last week, the talk was of what it would be like to be working in House Annex 2, the former FBI fingerprint building three blocks from Capitol Hill. That building, taken over by the House last year, has become the home of House personnel shifted from the Capitol and House office buildings because of overcrowding.
House and Senate employees doubled, to 16.000, between 1965 and 1975, and House committee staffers have gone from 350 to 1,100 in the last 10 years.
Getting the architect to move was not the commission's only remedy to the members' space crunch.
Another of its recommendations opened a new controversy last week when it was disclosed that dissenting views from four of the nine-member commission had not been published in the commission's final report.
"We're not happy with this highly irregular procedure," an aide to Rep. Philip Crane (R. III.), one of the dissenters, said last week.
Crane, along with Holtzman, Rep. John Ashbrook (R-Ohio), and Rep. James O'Hara (D-Mich.), had disagreed with the commission's recommendation to move the Democratic Study Group, Republican Study Committee and Congressional Black Caucus to House Annex 2.
All three groups now have space in office buildings one block from the Capitol, near enough to the House floor so that they can quickly supply members with debate material.
In her dissent, Holtzman said no hearings had been held and the commission had "insufficient information to justify the conclusion that moving these organizations would not impair their ability to assist members . . ."
Crane, Ashbrook and O'Hara (who has since retired from Congress), said in their dissent that these groups "play an important role . . . should be given some degree of preference in the assignment of office space" and "the groups believe their ability ot continue providing services would be seriously impaired by the proposed relocations."
One House aide suggested last week that the proposed move to the annex three blocks away was an attempt to cut down on the effectiveness of the Democratic Study Group and the Black Caucus, which on occassion had opposed the wishes of the House leadership.
Spokesmen for the commission strongly denied that suggestion.
Instead of moving the service groups, the dissenters suggessted that other holders of office space, such as the Democratic and Republican photographers, the House employment office, barber shops and the sauna be relocated to the annex.
A spokesman for the Brooks commission said last week the dissenting views would appear in a special report on House space which had been sent to the printers before the final report but had not yet come back.