ANY BUSINESS run like the House of Representatives would have been in deep trouble long ago. With a budget of over $282 million, the House has no comptroller or auditor. Its operating services are so fragmented that one department hangs pictures but another puts up drapes. House personnel practices are also badly out of date. Members get little aid in staff recruiting and training. Job opportunities still tend to be unequal, with women and nonwhites concentrated in lower-paying jobs and often paid unequally for equal work.
Though the House cannot be totally businesslike, its management can surely be improved. The House Commission on Administrative Review, headed by Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), is scheduled to bring many useful proposals before the House today. Besides authorizing a comptroller and auditor, the plan would put many House services - including equipment offices, the restaurant and the barber shops - under a new administrator. If anything, this overhaul does not go far enough; several other officials would still enjoy considerable autonomy, though in smaller domains.
While congressional office structures and job descriptions cannot be standardized, the pending plan would offer legislators more aid in managing their offices and defining their personnel policies. The commission also recommends a fair-employment-practices panel of three House members that could entertain employees' grievances but would have no real authority. The process should be improved, as Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) and others propose, by adding staff members to the panel and giving employees more confidence that their complaints would be fairly weighed.
Despite their limitations, most of the Obey commission's proposals should be approved. The panel has, however, take the familiar tack of sweetening its package by including another new office allowance: $12,000 per member for computer services. This, we think, should be voted down. House office budgets are not stiny any more. Two weeks ago the lawmakers voted themselves more funds for district offices and other projects. Moreover, the just-released reports on the new $5,000 expense accounts document how some incumbents have used public dollars for activities that should more properly be financed from campaign funds. Computers fall into that large gray area where public business and politicking overlap.If representatives want more computers for research or for producting reams of self-promoting mail, they should at least prove and consolidate House operations, not to give incumbents even more advantages.