Office swap on Capitol Hill in full swing

Congressman Dan Lungren views moving day on Capitol Hill as democracy in action.
Congressman Dan Lungren views moving day on Capitol Hill as democracy in action. Gage Skidmore/Flickr Creative Commons License

The packing boxes are stacking up outside congressional offices as the biannual office swap gets underway on Capitol Hill. A Californian is in charge of the real estate transactions.

Congress is in the grip of gridlock. We’re not talking about politics. We’re talking about the hallways of Capitol Hill. Dan Lungren surveys the hallways, "and you see all of these boxes, all of these crates, all of the movement going on during this period of time."

The Republican Lungren is the incoming chair of the House Administration Committee. It’s the real estate agent — and sometimes referee — for office space for the 435 members of the House of Representatives. With nearly one in four members leaving Washington, that means more than the usual office swaps.

"So the people that are really put in an awkward position are those who have been here before and lost in the last election or retired because as soon as the election is over on Nov. 2, they get the notice that they’re supposed to be on their way moving," says Lungren. "So most of those folks will be out of their offices within a couple of weeks and here we are in a lame duck session. So you could be someone here with great seniority. All of a sudden, you find you don’t have any office space."

Available offices are chosen according to seniority, so even if you’re the minority party, you get a shot at nicer digs. But what makes an office desirable?

Lungren says it all depends.

Some members like the view of the Capitol. Others want a particular configuration; Irvine Republican John Campbell likes to have his staff close to his office so he doesn’t have to walk through the reception area every time he wants to talk to them. A few extra square feet don’t hurt, either. That’s why Lungren is moving one floor up.

Freshmen,like LA Democrat Karen Bass, choose last. She’s anticipating a much smaller suite than those she enjoyed in Sacramento.

"I come from very grand offices," she says. "I mean, one serving as majority leader and two, serving as speaker. So I had huge, beautiful offices."

Bass says she’s heard the scuttlebutt on the Hill about which offices not to choose.

"I have been told that if you’re on the fifth floor, that’s difficult ‘cause it’s difficult to get to when there’s a lot of tourists and stuff so that would be an issue for me. But outside of that, and sure, I would love to have a window and a view, but you know, who knows? I don’t know what I’m choosing from," she says.

Congressman Dan Lungren sees the mass migration as evidence of democracy in action.

"It’s an extraordinary experience that happens every two years," he says. "But it is an inevitability when you realize that the Constitution says that members of Congress are to be elected every two years. So this is what the founding fathers envisioned."

Moving trucks in the hallways?

Lungren says those trucks indicate "there is change afoot. There’s movement coming. There are different people coming here."

New members will be shopping the House furniture inventory to choose desks, chairs and couches for their new offices. They have about a month to get up and running when the 112th Congress begins its work in January.

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