House kills congressional page program

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

House leaders announced Monday that they are terminating the long-running congressional page program for high school students--both out of cost considerations, and in recognition of the diminished demand for page services in the digital age. Officials with the page program say that pages have been assisting House members for nearly 200 years (though the term "page" wasn't documented until the 20th Congress, which was in session from 1827 to 1829.)

Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi jointly released the following statement:

We have great appreciation for the unique role that Pages have played in the history and traditions of the House of Representatives. This decision was not easy, but it is necessary due to the prohibitive cost of the program and advances in technology that have rendered most Page-provided services no longer essential to the smooth functioning of the House. Although the traditional mission of the Page Program has diminished, we will work with Members of the House to carry on the tradition of engaging young people in the work of the Congress.

The program currently accepts applications from high school juniors with a 3.0 or higher GPA to assist House members, primarily by delivering documents, messages, and letters for them.

But Boehner and Pelosi said an independent review of the program found a reduced need for pages now that many documents are electronic, and since lawmakers field their own phone messages via electronic devices. A review of the page program's annual cost estimated that it eats up $5 million plus expenses related to the dormitory and school, putting the overall "per page"cost somewhere between $69,000 and $80,000.

Scrutiny over federal spending increased this month as lawmakers battled over whether to raise the debt limit and how to go about reducing the federal deficit.

The program has also been plagued by scandal in recent decades. In 1983, two House members were censured for having sex with pages who were 17. That age was technically above the age of legal consent, the incidents were obviously improper in plenty of other ways. Following the 1983, the House established a board to oversee the program and protect pages.

In 2006, Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigned after it came to light that he was conducting sexually charged internet communications with two former pages.

A number of congressional lawmakers got their start in politics as pages, including Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.). Microsoft chairman Bill Gates also served as a congressional page.