Taxpayers Pay Plenty for Congressional Office Shuffling

U.S. taxpayers are picking up the tab for a large-scale and fast-moving shuffle of U.S. Capitol office suites.

A review by the News4 I-Team found the post-election jockeying for office space, including from veteran members of Congress, will require Capitol work crews to shift furniture, furnishings, boxes and electronics between hundreds of rooms and cubicles. The cost to taxpayers during a similar office shift in late 2012 was $1.5 million, according to the I-Team’s findings.

The Architect of the Capitol’s office, an administrative agency that oversees the Capitol complex, will supervise the mass shifting of members of Congress into different office spaces. The agency must also set up space for the more than 60 newly elected congressional freshmen. The work requires weeks to complete and includes a lottery system to determine which members of Congress gets first choice in choosing suites.

The I-Team’s review of annual reports and testimony submitted to Congress by the Architect of the Capitol shows work crews moved 254 members of Congress to different office space after the 2012 federal elections. In a March 2014 filing with Congress, the agency said it had been working to limit the expenses incurred.

Pete Sepp, a spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, said the bulk of the work and cost are unnecessary. “What’s driving this is the senior members of Congress who want even bigger, fancier places to hang their hats,” Sepp said. “That’s fine, but the taxpayers are the ones paying for it. They deserve to be consulted.”

Brad Fitch, a longtime congressional staffer, said it has long been common for veteran members of Congress to jockey for prime office suites. Fitch said senior leaders are particularly interested in office space offering a shorter walk to committee hearing rooms and the Senate and U.S. House floors. “Capitol Hill is not different than other real estate. It’s about location, location, location.”

Fitch, who serves as chief executive officer of the Congressional Management Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides research and management consultation to congressional leaders, said office moves are a challenge to the U.S. Senate and House staffers. “I can tell you it is a pain in the neck to move,” Fitch said. “It better be a good trade up, because the work the staff and the member have to do is significant.”

The transition of office space requires weeks to complete. Stacks of furniture – including office chairs, desks, lamps, podiums, plaques and boxes – sit in some of the hallways outside U.S. House offices. Computers, phones and electronics are moved, too. Work crews ensure members of Congress maintain their old office phone numbers after moving to new suites, to maintain continuity for constituents back home.

The office moves are part of a large portfolio of projects and work overseen by the Architect of the Capitol’s office, including a massive renovation of the U.S. Capitol Dome and the Cannon House Office Building.

Spokespeople for Maryland and Virginia members of Congress indicated most of the local congressional delegation is staying put in their current office spaces, including Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) and Sen. Tim Kaine, (D-Va). A spokesman for Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said, “We have kept the same office for all six years Sen. Warner has been here and would only consider moving if it helps us better serve the people of Virginia.”

Members of Congress from other regions acknowledged they were seeking new office suites that offer larger space and shorter walks. A veteran California Republican said he wanted “more room” and a closer walk to committee activities. A New York Republican told the I-Team he wanted “better storage” spaces for his staff. A Massachusetts Democrat said he was seeking additional space for his staff. A Texas Republican said he wanted an office with a “nicer layout.”

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