From taxpayer built and maintained quarters in the Rayburn Office Building garage, two $15,280-a-year House "printing clerks" each run profitable million-dollar private printing companies, according to a General Accountin Office report released Tuesday.
The majority, or Democratic, printing clerk, David R. Ramage, and his Republican opposite number. Thomas J. Lankford, draw their House salaries for producing Whip notices, "Dear Colleague" letters and press releases for the House leadership.
But their private jobs - and far greater salaries - are running separate printing businesses that cater to individual House members for whom they print newsletters, questionnaires and news releases.
Ironically, about half their private printing income is derived from taxpayer funds.
In mid-1975, the House agreed to provide each member with a $5,000 constituent communications allowance. Most of that money used for printing goes to the private operations of the two clerks.
According to Clerk of the House reports, in 1976 the House paid members's printing bills totaling $1,250,120 to the private firms run by House employees Ramage and Lankford.
Lankford's company last year, according to the GAO did $1.2 million worth of business.
The House minority printing clerk, a 24-year veteran in that job, received a $77,400 salary in 1976 as president-treasurer of his private company.
In addition, the firm showed a $72,766 profit for the year.
Ramage's company sharply increased its business with Democratic members last year after institutiion of the new constituent communications allowance.
His firm's fiscal 1976 volume of $1,037,550 was almost doubel that of a year earlier.
Ramage drew a $41,470 salary last year, leaving his company with a $60,940 net profit, according to the GAO.
Last year also, Ramage set aside a $20,312 "relocation contingency fund" preparing for a day when he may be forced to give up his free space in the House office building.
During last year's legislative appropriations debate, there was criticism of the two printers' receiving a House salary.
The House Commission on Amdinistrative Review, chaired by Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis), has a task force now looking into administrative units of the House, which include the printing clerk operations.
The printing clerk positions were originally established in 1943. In those days the work was almost entirely for the House leadership.
Thereafter, individual members began to desire special printing services for themselves. The two House printing clerks were not overworked and were conveniently located right on Capitol Hill.
Since money to pay for members' printing came from campaign contributions, private donors or a member's personal funds, the printing clerks could not provide their services as House employees. The answer was to set up private companies.
Business grew as newsletters and other mailings became popular as aids in getting re-elected.
The old arrangement, conducting a private business on government property, is neither illegal nor unusual. News organizations. Western Union and airline and railroad ticketing agencies receive free space on Capitol Hill.
The public was unaware of the size of the operation and its profitability until the GAO's report became public. The GAO audit was ordered initially in 1970, after The Washington Star first disclosed the clerks were then doing a big private business.
The audit was never undertaken until recently.
Lankford has traditionally done a greater volume of private business since the Republicans, through their campaign committee have provided their members regularly with funds for printing newsletters.
In 1975. Lankford drew a salary of $78,323 and the year before, $70,200.
He also maintains an adversising and promotion fund which he told one reporter was used to treat House members and their aides to sports events and a big annual party.
Lankford is also a regular contributor of $1,000 to the Republican Congressional Committee and its Booster Club, organizations which send him business. In 1975-1976, he and his son were listed as contributing, $3,250 to Gerald Ford's presidential campaign.
Ramage, from Oklahoma, got his job through the patronage of former House Speaker Carl Albert (D-Okla). Both Ramage and Lankford are said to own the stock in their companies.