NPR logo House Page Program To End; Victim Of Technology, Austerity

House Page Program To End; Victim Of Technology, Austerity

Rep. Hamilton Fish, a New York Republican, and the House page basketball team, Jan. 15, 1927. Library of Congress hide caption

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Library of Congress

Rep. Hamilton Fish, a New York Republican, and the House page basketball team, Jan. 15, 1927.

Library of Congress

Add another line of work to the ever growing scrap heap of history containing the casualties of technological change: the House Page program that is almost as old as the American Republic.

Actually, the program was clearly a victim of the wave of austerity sweeping through the nation's capital as well.

House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, issued a joint statement Monday that they were ending the page program which employed youngsters as messengers for lawmakers since 1827 though the practice of using children to relay messages goes back to the Continental Congress.

Boehner, a Ohio Republican, and Pelosi, a California Democrat, indicated that the Internet, BlackBerries and smartphones, have undone the program since all the paper documents and phone messages pages used to scurry with to and fro are largely a thing of the past:

"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 news release provided additional details that drove their decision:

Citing advances in technology that have reduced the need for services traditionally provided by congressional Pages, as well as the high cost of the program, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have directed the Clerk of the House and other House officials to take the steps necessary to conclude the House Page Program. Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi have advised the Page Board of their decision, which was based in part on an independent review of the program conducted jointly by Strategic Assets Consulting and Fieldstone Consulting, Inc. Specifically, the independent review found:

  • Pages, once stretched to the limit delivering large numbers of documents and other packages between the U.S. Capitol and House office buildings, are today rarely called upon for such services, since most documents are now transmitted electronically;
  • Dozens of Pages, once needed on the House floor to deliver a steady stream of phone messages to lawmakers, are no longer required for that purpose as most Members are contacted directly via electronic devices;
  • The annual cost to operate the program exceeds $5 million, not including capital costs associated with the Page dormitory and school; and
  • The "per Page" cost per school year is between $69,000 and $80,000, more than the most expensive boarding schools, as well as most colleges and universities.

It probably didn't help that pages have figured in some congressional scandals. In 1983 when the public learned that two lawmakers, Dan Crane and Gerry Studds, had sexual relations with two 17-year old pages. A 2006 scandal involved another lawmaker, Mark Foley, who had emailed and instant-messaged sexually suggestive messages to former pages.

But the scandals were aberrations, sensational to be sure, but relatively rare events.

On a more positive note, the program produced a number of high-profile alumni. Numerous members of Congress started as House pages.

Bill Gates, the nation's richest man, was also a House page, the irony being that he would come to make important contributions to the technologies that would kill the program.