Brown-Waite: Pages at risk
The congresswoman quits the oversight board in protest.
By BILL ADAIR, Times Washington Bureau Chief
Published December 7, 2007
Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite says the House page program lacks sufficient oversight.
[Lauren Victoria Burke]
WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite resigned from the board overseeing the troubled House page program Thursday, saying that it has been poorly managed and that four pages recently were dismissed for shoplifting and "inappropriate sexual indiscretions."
The other Republican on the panel, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, also resigned for the same reason.
Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, and Capito blamed the Democrats who run the House for failing to fix problems that were exposed by the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley's sexual advances with former pages.
"It's almost like the Democrats haven't learned from the Mark Foley thing," Brown-Waite said.
Capito issued a statement that said, "Unfortunately, the problems with communication between board members that plagued the program in the past have only continued under new House leadership. Members of this board cannot productively tackle problems that may occur with our pages when questionable incidents are held from members of the page board."
Brown-Waite said two pages were dismissed after they allegedly stole merchandise from a shopping mall in September. The congresswoman said "the amount was substantial."
Members of the page board weren't told about the incident for a week, she said.
Two other pages, a boy and a girl, recently were dismissed from the program because of "inappropriate sexual indiscretions." Brown-Waite said the multiple incidents involved only the student pages - no adults - but that other pages were "enablers and ... observers." Charlie Keller, spokesman for Brown-Waite, confirmed that the pages were dismissed this week after an incident involving oral sex in an elevator. It was one in a series of trysts between the pages dating back more than a month, he said.
Brown-Waite said she would no longer recommend that students from her district become pages because, "I can't in good conscience continue to have a page while the lack of supervision is there."
She said she volunteered for the four-member page board because she hoped to be involved in reforms. But she was disheartened to find that the new management did not fix the problems brought to light by the Foley scandal, such as inadequate communication with board members.
Brown-Waite first heard about the shoplifting incident from another teenage page and said that only when she inquired with the clerk was the board notified. After that, board members established procedures requiring they be notified when any page is dismissed from the program.
The page program "is not improving - that's the problem," she said. "I think it's going downhill."
A spokesman for Rep. Dale Kildee, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the page board, referred calls to House Clerk Lorraine Miller, who runs the page program. In a statement issued Thursday night, Miller said she welcomed "constructive criticism" but said she had made many improvements to the program.
She said she had "implemented significant reform measures designed to restore and enhance the integrity, effectiveness and reputation of the House Page Program," such as strict discipline and expanded safety measures to limit access to the Page School. She said the dismissals were part of a "zero-tolerance policy" and "an example of our willingness to exercise our option of immediate dismissal from the program, an option that we will continue to exercise when appropriate and warranted."
The other member of the board is Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado whose office did not return a telephone call.
The page program allows teenagers to spend a few months working and studying in Congress. The pages take classes and act as messengers for House members. They live in a dormitory near the Capitol.
The program has been marred by previous scandals. In 1983, Reps. Dan Crane, R-Ill., and Gerry Studds, D-Mass., were censured for having sex with pages. Foley, a Republican from the West Palm Beach area, resigned from Congress in September 2006 after the disclosure of his explicit e-mail conversations with teenage boys who had served as pages.
He has been under a criminal investigation by Florida authorities, but no charges have been filed. He has been seen in Miami and Beverly Hills, Calif., but has not given interviews. He is said to be interested in resuming a career in commercial real estate.
The scandal, which was a key factor in the Republicans' loss of the House and Senate, led to promises from both parties that they would improve the page program and that members of the board would be informed promptly about problems.
"When I agreed to serve as a Republican representative to the Page Board, I truly believed that we would have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of high school students working in our Capitol," Brown-Waite wrote in her resignation letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday. "Unfortunately, what I have seen is even less oversight and less supervision from the Clerk's and your office than in Congresses past."
Bill Adair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202 463-0575. Information from Congressional Quarterly was used in this report.
[Last modified December 7, 2007, 00:08:26]
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