House cleaning

House cleaning
© Greg Nash

Trash cans are overflowing. Carpets are in need of vacuuming. Lawmakers’ offices are being cleaned once a week instead of daily.

With the government shutdown entering its second week and employees remaining on furlough, the U.S. Capitol complex isn’t looking its usual pristine self.


Eighty percent of the staff of the Architect of the Capitol’s office, which is in charge of cleaning and maintenance, is being furloughed during the shutdown.

 “We can still provide essential services for safety and health,” said Eva Malecki, the spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol.

But with most of the staff off work, the Capitol and surrounding office buildings aren’t being cleaned with the usual frequency, and some repairs will take longer. For example, if an elevator stops working, it won’t be fixed quickly.

The public areas and restrooms are only being serviced once a day instead of several times.

“There’s less traffic in those areas because there are no tours,” Malecki said.

Even without the hundreds of tourists walking around and several lawmakers placing staff on furlough, the wear and tear is becoming noticeable.

Trash cans are close to overflowing before they are emptied, some restrooms are running low on toilet paper, and the carpets are covered in small bits of debris.

And it’s not just the public areas that are looking a bit ragged:  Members’ offices aren’t their usual spick-and-span selves, either.

A walk through of some of the House and Senate office buildings revealed neatly tied trash bags sitting in the hallways, along with full recycling containers.

Inside lawmakers’ offices, there were overflowing trash cans next to desks and debris-covered carpets.

No one is complaining, however.

Members are “very understanding and appreciative,” Malecki said.

The Capitol is more than 1.5 million square feet, which translates into approximately 540 rooms, 658 windows (108 in the dome alone) and about 850 doorways, plus miles of corridors.

Add in the Capitol complex, which includes the six principal congressional office buildings and three Library of Congress buildings that house the multi-roomed offices of 435 House members, 100 senators and space for support staff — and that’s a lot of rooms to clean.

The Capitol complex runs as its own self-sustaining village: There’s a post office, a dry cleaner and plenty of food options. Members have their own gyms, their own elevators and an underground tunnel system to get them from meeting to meeting or into the Capitol for votes without ever going outside.

Some of those services are contracted and have remained open while the rest of the government is shuttered.

Other offices are closed, leaving the Capitol complex to be run by a skeleton crew.

The elevator operators, who keep people off the members-only elevators and help direct visitors, are gone. Several cafeterias and coffee shops are closed. Each House and Senate office building only has one entrance open, creating longer lines to get into the complex.

Several other services are closed: The flag office, which dispenses flags flown over the Capitol, is shuttered. The Senate barbershop is closed. The shoeshine stands sit empty.

It’s the Architect of the Capitol’s office that keeps everything up and running. The office has approximately 2,600 employees and an annual budget of nearly $600 million.

Just over 2,000 people employed by the Architect are furloughed, leaving roughly 20 percent of the normal staff to make up the extra work.

Given the lawmakers’ unusual schedule of late-night votes and weekend work, Capitol employees are on “rolling furloughs” to cover all the shifts. They are being rotated once a week or every other day, depending on their duties.

A lot of them are also taking on additional duties.

For example, on the Senate side, elevator technicians are helping drive the subways between the Senate office buildings and the Capitol.

It’s an “increased amount of work” for everyone, Malecki said.

And it’s work that won’t end until the shutdown does.