U.S. Capitol Doesn't Meet Federal Standards for Accommodating New Mothers

What to Know

  • Congress is exempt from the rules and fails to meet standards for lactation stations and changing tables.
  • Leaders are trying to order upgrades but must first get official spending approval from Congress.
  • A GSA spokeswoman said the rules only apply to new or renovated facilities.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated with the senator's letter to the Senate Rules Committee.

A U.S. senator formally requested upgrades be made to U.S. Capitol grounds because of a News4 I-Team report.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) requested the Senate Rules Committee take steps to add more baby changing tables and lactation stations to help accommodate young mothers who work and visit the Capitol.

“I am deeply concerned by a recent report by NBCWashington that the U.S. Capitol does not meet the federal government’s own standards for accommodations for new mothers and parents of small children,” Casey wrote in a formal letter to the Committee Wednesday.

“I respectfully urge you to take steps to improve the facilities,” Casey also wrote.

Other members of Congress also expressed concern Wednesday about the I-Team’s findings.

“Families should never have to deal with inadequate facilities while in a federal building, especially in the U.S. Capitol," said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). "I’m grateful that NBC4 is bringing some much-needed attention to the importance of making the U.S. Capitol and other federal buildings more family friendly.”

The I-Team’s report found the U.S. Capitol lacks the number of baby changing stations and lactation stations required in federal buildings by the U.S. General Services Administration, a federal agency overseen by Congress. Congress is exempt from the rules and fails to meet those standards.

Congressional leaders had been trying to order upgrades to the grounds, but must first get official spending approval from a stalemated Congress which has been unable to approve spending bills in recent years.

The I-Team’s review of congressional records and U.S. Capitol facilities shows the grounds have 12 lactation stations for women members and staffers. Federal building standards issued by the General Services Administration require six lactation stations for every 1,000 women employees at federal buildings. With an estimated 7,000 women employees on Capitol grounds, 42 lactation stations would be necessary to meet the federal standards.

The I-Team investigation also found the U.S. House office buildings do not meet federal standards for “family restrooms,” or restrooms with baby changing tables. Other than those in the newer U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, U.S. House office buildings have nine restrooms with baby changing tables. General Services Administration building standards would require more than 20.

An official with the Office of Compliance, a federal agency that monitors workplace safety at the U.S. Capitol, told the I-Team Congress needn’t adhere to General Services Administration standards.

Capitol office buildings also predate the building standards issued by the General Services Administration. A GSA spokeswoman said the rules only apply to new or renovated facilities.

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Legislative Appropriations noted the need for additional baby changing stations and designated parking for pregnant mothers in a report issued last week. “The Committee recognizes the importance of providing designated baby changing stations for members of the public and Members and staffers who visit the Capitol Complex, including in both male and female publicly accessible bathrooms,” the report said. “The Committee encourages the Architect of the Capitol to take steps to provide baby changing stations at easily accessible locations throughout the Capitol Complex in both male and female bathrooms.”

The subcommittee’s report also said, “The Committee recognizes the value of and supports parking accommodations for Members and Staff during pregnancy. The Committee supports efforts by the Office of the Sergeant at Arms, in conjunction with the Committee on House Administration to provide accommodating temporary parking for Members and Staff during their pregnancy.”

Shea Miller, a 13-year employee of the U.S. House, said maternity parking would have greatly benefited her before the birth of her son Shaw. “I think about when I was pregnant the first time and parking in the garage,” Miller said. “(I was) literally doing 15 minutes of waddling to my office.”

Congressional complex officials said a set of new lactation stations are expected to open within a month in the Longworth House Office Building. A spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol said additional lactation areas are available in some of the health units on Capitol grounds.

The House subcommittee requested upgrades to the baby changing stations and parking accommodations for new mothers as part of its formal appropriations bill to fund the legislative branch in 2017. Though the subcommittee formally approved the bill, Congress has failed in recent years to pass all of its appropriations bills into law.

Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot by Evan Carr and edited by Perkins Broussard.

Contact Us