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House ends its page program

High school students will no longer run errands for lawmakers. Their services are not essential, say leaders who also cite the program's $5-million cost.

August 09, 2011|By Christine Mai-Duc, Washington Bureau
  • The House page program has ended after 200 years, leaders announced, citing costs and the lack of need for services.
The House page program has ended after 200 years, leaders announced, citing… (Tom Williams, Roll Call )

Reporting from Washington — Naomi Hung remembers her stint as a House page as a transformative experience. "It actually gave me a really deep sense of respect for government, which I honestly think is missing a lot now in people my age," she said.

About to begin law school at UC Berkeley, Hung, 26, was dismayed to hear that the historic House page program is history.

"Personally, I hate to see it go," she said. "Sometimes if something like that changes a person's life, maybe it's worth it."

But citing the $5-million annual cost and dwindling need in the age of electronic communication, House leaders announced Monday that the program is over.

"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," Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in a statement.

The average number of pages in each "class" is about 70, Boehner's office said, and the last day on the job for the last class was Friday.

The Senate's smaller page program will continue.

Hung was not the only former House page to be upset.

"A program that is over 200 years old was snuffed out in a backroom decision with no opportunity to consult with former pages or other members," said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who was a page in 1977.

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) was a page from 1938 to 1943 while his father served in Congress.

"It's very sad," Dingell told the Associated Press. "There have been some scandals, but … most kids get a great deal of good out of it. It taught me about government and gave me a real knowledge of what happens in the House. It gave me an appreciation of public service."

The wealthiest former page? Bill Gates of Microsoft.

Pages are high school students who serve one semester as errand-runners. Each sponsored by a Congress member, pages earn a monthly salary of $1,804.83, from which room and board are deducted.

The program has not been without scandal.

In 1983, two congressmen were censured for having affairs with two 17-year-old pages. After that, the page program established a dormitory and strict curfew rules.

Then, in 2006, Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) was embroiled in a scandal involving explicit instant messages he sent to former pages. Foley resigned, but the page program survived calls for its elimination.

Before email, pages delivered documents and telephone messages back and forth from the House floor to congressional offices.

In the age of BlackBerries and electronic documents, however, the pages often sit idle on the House podium's steps.

But the up-close look at government remains.

"You pages have witnessed the House debate issues of war and peace, hunger and poverty, justice and civil rights," Rep. Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.) said after last week's vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling. "You have lived through history."

christine.maiduc@latimes.com

Lisa Mascaro in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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