Clutter is unsafe and unseemly, House panel told

“Do not take.”

“Please move.”

Those words scrawled on a piece of computer paper sitting atop a mound of chairs, tables or electrical equipment have become typical sights in the congressional office buildings. However, several members of the House Administration Committee want the unwritten policy of throwing extra office supplies in the hallway to change.

John Mulcahy
Some Capitol offices store supplies in their hallways.

“The hallways are becoming full of everything,” Chairman Robert Ney (R-Ohio) said during Friday’s House Administration Committee hearing. He said that, in addition to the office-supply clutter, computer screens, electronics and boards placed outside congressional offices, “noble causes “have also become a possible safety issue.

“I was appalled my first day in the Congress to see the amount of stuff in the hallways,” said Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), who during the hearing expressed his dissatisfaction with the state of the hallways.

“I have never worked in a place where if you want something moved you put it out in the hallway and put a sign on it that says ‘move’ or if you need extra space you put a sign on it that says ‘do not move,’” Ehlers said. “It looks like a junkyard.”

Ranking member Juanita Millender McDonald (D-Calif.) said that the hallways aesthetically not only are displeasing but are also unsafe.

During the oversight hearing, which was called to examine the May 11 evacuation of the Capitol campus and the emergency preparedness of the House, Ney expressed concern that items in the hallway would slow an evacuation. He used the small fire Friday morning on the roof of the Rayburn Building as an example.

“If you have smoke, you have to get down. You are going to run into these things. They are going to fall over,” Ney said. “If you have these hallways packed with thousands of people and there are couches and everything else under the sun in these hallways … I assume that has to be a real safety problem.
“Someone could fall on [a sign] and be impaled by [it] in a rush.”
James Eagen, chief administrative officer, said that a working group had been established and a proposal detailing guidelines for the hallways was submitted to the Administration Committee as well as the House Office Building Commission two weeks ago.

Eagen said the proposal would ban trash and furniture from the hallways and there was only limited alternative storage space on the Capitol grounds.

Nevertheless, he said, “The current practice … would be no longer acceptable.”

Yesterday, during a walk-through of the House office buildings, The Hill found a virtual office-supply store in the hallways.

In Rayburn and Cannon, several chairs, desks, filing cabinets, bookcases, tables and a coat rack cluttered the hallways. Several sets of tables and chairs, a computer, a printer and cabinets dotted the marbled halls of Longworth.

Signs projecting the national debt and remembering those who died on Sept. 11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are strewn among dozens of the offices.

Elise Craig and Tiffany Todd contributed to this report.