Crowded House (and Senate)
The New York Times today reports on overcrowding on senators-only elevators at the Capitol. The article is of the mocking, “here’s-a-quarter-call-someone-who-cares” variety, but I think it nonetheless picks up on a real issue. Having spent this summer moonlighting as a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee, I can confirm that overcrowding is a big problem on Capitol Hill.
I have devoted my professional life to public interest law and now academia, and so I had not thought of myself as someone who cares about workplace amenities. But I was taken aback by the uncomfortable working conditions in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where I spent most of the summer. The elevators are painfully slow, and when they are arrive they are often jammed too full to allow anyone waiting to board. (I never attempted to board a senators-only elevator, as the NYT reported some staffers do, but I can certainly understand the temptation.) The eating options are abysmal, expensive, and packed during the peak lunch hours. More than once I observed staffers forced to “lunch” on popcorn from a stand in the basement – the cheapest and quickest way to ingest some calories in time to run back and deal with whatever crisis is brewing. And office space is a joke. Staffers with vital jobs are in windowless cubicles with little workspace, no privacy, and no opportunity for quiet contemplation.
So why should anyone care? Well, I don’t claim that improving working conditions on Capitol Hill should become a national priority. But nonetheless I think the time lost waiting for elevators, foraging for food, and trying to find a quiet place for a conference call is a net loss for taxpayers. And I wonder if it doesn’t create an atmosphere of anxiety, annoyance, and general frustration that infects the day-to-day interactions of staffers and senators with each other and the constituencies they serve.
But perhaps I take a good lunch a little too seriously.