Reform, don't reject, the House page program

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And what is the great sum of money that will be saved that warrants sacrificing history and the grooming of future leaders? $5 million. That’s $2 million less than the Defense Department pays NASCAR annually for sports marketing!

The other reason given was that technology has made it easier to transmit and receive documents that pages used to messenger around the Capitol area, causing too much down time. The question should be “Why is there nothing for 70 high school students to do or learn in their part-time hours at the seat of our nation’s government, in a time of financial crisis, no less?”  Could bad management be to blame for this?

Consider the important duties that pages have traditionally held:

They serve as “runners” transporting documents and packages to and from members of Congress, most crucially when the member must remain on the floor for long periods;

They provide administrative support functions such as answering telephones, handling correspondence, and organizing paperwork;

They ring the bells for votes on the House floor;

They take members’ statements; and

They take proposed legislation from the member to the cloakrooms.

It is right that the government seek to get rid of excess, but cancelling invaluable and inimitable opportunities for young people to hone their leadership skills by becoming involved in government is not the way to cut spending. Our future leaders need this experience, the exposure to good role models, the opportunity to see places and people outside of what they have known, the opportunity to foster an appreciation for their government by seeing democracy in action, meeting Congressional members, seeing the State of the Union Address up close, and becoming familiar with the places that made this country’s history. 

The Page experience expands young minds and horizons. They help our youth begin to take the world more seriously.  They instill idealism, pride in one’s country and a fervent belief in the value of public service.

There are many important leaders who started as Congressional Pages. Among them:  Bill Gates, Civil War hero William B. Cushing, and Congressmen Dan Boren, Paul Kanjorski, and Robert Baumann. Former Pages have said their lives would have been much different without the experience of the Page program.

Dan Boren wrote a very eloquent letter to Boehner and Pelosi on the issue. In it, he states, “…it is a mistake to end the program rather than making changes to bring down the costs and expand the role of pages.” 

Andrea Kay recently wrote, “Few programs prepare you for a career better than one that requires four things: Be a team player, speak fluent English, conduct yourself in a mature and responsible manner, and dress appropriately.” She was referring to the House Page program

Ritch K. Eich, Ph.D., is the principal of the management and leadership-consulting firm Eich Associated in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and has served on military academy selection committees. He is the author of Real Leaders Don’t Boss, to be released in January 2012.