By Bridget Bowman, CQ Roll Call (MCT)
WASHINGTON — What does one do with 24 golden bulldogs?
“I’m trying to find homes for these things,” said Ed McDonald, chief of staff for retiring Rep. Howard Coble, describing the fiscal conservative awards the North Carolina Republican has acquired over the years. McDonald is packing up 30 years worth of memorabilia and documents before a different lawmaker moves into the Rayburn office.
While members of Congress who lost on Election Day are faced with the unpleasant task of packing up their belongings and moving out, other staffers who work for retiring members, and members who lost their primaries, have been packing up their offices for months.
Rep. George Miller’s staff began slowly boxing up items when the California Democrat announced his retirement in January. But after Congress left for the summer, the staff went into overdrive, sifting through photos and documents to send to the archives at the University of California at Berkley.
“You learn a lot about what he worked on and what we all worked on when you go through all this stuff,” said Miller’s chief of staff, Daniel Weiss, who has worked for Miller for 26 years. “You don’t remember it all necessarily until you touch it again.”
Miller has resided in his plush Rayburn office since 1993, and the high ceilings and picturesque view of the Capitol make it a top target for senior House members who will have the first pick of available offices.
Some staffers have already stopped by to scope out the coveted digs. “You don’t know exactly what they’re coming in to look at,” said Miller staff assistant Rebekah Eskandani, “and then they’re like, ‘Oh, you have a great view. I like this office.'”
Eskandani was one of the staffers who has been packing up Miller’s office for months. Other members who knew they wouldn’t be returning to Congress well before Election Day were also able to get a jump start on the moving-out process, with help from a legion of legislative agencies.
In the House, the chief administrative officer helps coordinate the process, along with the Architect of the Capitol, the Office of Art and Archives and the General Services Administration, to name a few. Staffers from each departing member’s office are encouraged to attend “departing member briefings,” where representatives from each agency are on hand to answer questions.
At the briefings, “subjects range from closing the D.C. and district offices, to returning equipment and the disposition of papers,” Chief Administrative Officer spokesman Dan Weiser wrote in an email to CQ Roll Call.
On the Senate side, the Rules and Administration Committee is in charge of the moving process. Because there are fewer members leaving the Senate, each office meets individually with the Rules Committee to discuss logistics.
The chambers also differ in terms of when departing members have to be out of their offices.
All departing senators must move out by midnight the day before new members take the oath of office at the beginning of January. House members, on the other hand, have to be out on Dec. 1, meaning they will be without an office when the House returns for work in December.
What happens to those House members? They are given a computer and cubicle in the “Departing Member Center” in the Rayburn basement.
“If you ask anybody that’s been through it, they will tell you it’s really an unpleasant process,” Weiss said. “It’s not like we each have enormous amounts of space, but now your office is down to one cubicle. This would be what 40 years looks like: One cubicle.”
Weiss said his staff will receive additional space, due to Miller’s position as the top Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee. But McDonald said his staff will work out a schedule to determine when each staffer will sit in the cubicle in December.
After all of the sorting and archiving are complete, the Architect of the Capitol refurbishes the offices for the new occupants and adds a fresh coat of paint. Most of the furniture is passed on to incoming lawmakers, except for a few custom and personal pieces.
In one corner of Miller’s office sits an antique barber’s chair, a gift from his mother. The chair has become a favorite for kids and visitors, but it will no longer be spotted in Rayburn. Instead it will be heading back to California, along with artifacts from 40 years in Congress, with Miller.
AFP Photo/Mark Wilson