Back in 1975, a few House Republican pages got involved with "indiscriminate use of harmful drugs," but those pages who wanted something done about the situation were told by their superiors to let the events pass quietly, according to testimony given a House committee the next year.
"They didn't want to bring this problem to light," one page told the committee, "because it would be viewed by the superiors in the other party in the House, as superiors making trouble for each other."
At these same House oversight hearings on the Capitol page school, James T. Molloy, then as now the doorkeeper of the House, told the members that "We have a potential time bomb in that we don't have adequate supervision over pages in that last level that I speak of, the nights and where they live."
Last month, Molloy's time bomb may have gone off when several pages told federal investigators that during their stays here they went to wild parties, used drugs and either heard of or, in a few disputed instances, took part in sexual activities involving fellow pages, congressional aides and members of Congress.
The House ethics committee and the Justice Department are looking into the allegations to determine if they are true and if any rules of the House or federal laws have been violated.
But no matter how those inquiries turn out, these allegations and their aftermath may do what the well-meaning Republican pages could not get done seven years ago--focus attention of both the country and Congress on reforming the questionable conditions under which the teen-age pages live and work in Washington.
A variety of reform ideas are being floated in the House. Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), whose page was the first to carry allegations to the Justice Department, has come out for abolishing the system entirely. Instead she would substitute hired messengers, out of school, similar to those already on the staffs of some congressional committees.
Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.), has called for funding of a multimillion-dollar page dormitory and schooling complex (which some say could go as high as $15 million) that was authorized 12 years ago. Wright said earlier this month that it could be funded out of the rental payments that pages now have to give private landlords.
There has been some talk of turning the page jobs over to senior citizens, giving the retired a chance to do the simple jobs of answering telephones and carrying messages.
One member involved with the page system scoffs at the notion. "We once measured that some pages have put 10 miles in per day," he said. "Old-timers couldn't do that."
Then there is the notion of bringing in older, college students, who would have more experience and sense of responsiblity than today's teen-age pages.
In 1976, Doorkeeper Molloy told a committee his reasons why such a change would not work, a view still held by the current House leadership.
"I just think it is a lot easier to handle high school kids," Molloy said, "than to handle college or law students who maybe might come up to a congressman on the floor: 'Why in God's name did you ever vote this way?' We have these high school students who would be shocked and chagrined to even get into a conversation with some members. It is that awesome attitude they hold."
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.) has authorized a feasibility study aimed at finding some way to have all the pages live in the same building under regular supervision, according to Rep. John J. Moakley (D-Mass.), chairman of the Democratic patronage committee and a confidant of the speaker.
Instead of putting millions into a new building, Moakley said, "which a cost-conscious Congress might not approve, we are looking at the Congressional Hotel as a place that could be refurbished."
A Senate management study of the page system, supervised by the Secretary of the Senate William F. Hildenbrand and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Howard S. Liebengood, has just been completed. Its prime recommendation is to limit Senate pages to those in their junior year, and to provide supervised, dormitory housing.
One of the basic weaknesses of the page system is the lack of supervision--and the experiences of Leroy Williams, one of the former pages who has talked with investigators involving the current investigation, vividly illustrate those shortcomings.
Little more than a month after the then-17-year-old Williams arrived in Washington from North Little Rock, Ark., in the summer of 1981 to be a Republican House page, Congress went into its month-long summer recess.
That meant for all but the first week of August, Williams was on his own, unsupervised in a new city, living alone in the three-story row house at 625 East Capitol St. that provided rooms for 15 male pages and served as the only male page dormitory.
In the middle of August, he moved into his own apartment, returning some evenings to the East Capitol Street house to watch television.
Williams has told The Washington Post that it was during those first months as a page that he made contact with male prostitutes. And it was also during that August, according to Williams, that he allegedly arranged for at least one congressional staffer to meet with a prostitute at 625 East Capitol St.
A second page described to The Post recently the problems he had in trying to get adjusted to life in Washington.
He recalls he was given notice from his congressman's office that he had been accepted as a page and told he was due in Washington the next day. When he arrived, he met with his sponsoring congressman for less than 30 minutes, and that was the last personal conversation they ever had.
Finding an apartment to live in and a roommate were his own responsibilities. Then, he said, there were the conditions under which the pages went to school and worked.
"School," he said, "was a joke."
The hours are enough to give anyone pause. Page school, which runs from September to June, is conducted on the third floor of the Library of Congress. It begins at 6:10 a.m., has a built-in 30-minute break for breakfast around 8:15 a.m., and concludes at 9:45 a.m., so the pages can walk across to the Capitol and begin work by 10 a.m.
In a normal day, the pages would be let off at 5 p.m., after most of them have spent up to six hours carrying messages and material from one end of the Hill to the other.
In the 1976 hearings, a female page told the panel, "I know of two girls in particular who lived in my dorm who I don't think ever stayed in to do any studying whatsoever. The were in Georgetown every night. Not every night. Every other night. They had a very tough time of it. They seemed so young and they did so much growing up because they felt they had to, but not in the right way."
A 1976 poll of 34 then pages taken by House officials found no less than 22 calling the page school "much worse" than the school they had previously attended and another seven saying it was only "worse."
Complicating the school situation is the fact that, up to now, pages for the Senate can begin at 14 years of age, setting up the need for teaching grades running from ninth to 12th.