It’s on: Members-elect vie for offices

The countdown had officially begun Friday as members-elect rushed around the Hill on a quest for the best office.

Like that of a crazed reality TV show, the goal was clear: Hope for the lowest lottery number, find the best suite and count on luck to marry the two.

Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican congressman-elect, picked lucky No. 7.

In Congress, choosing a good office involves more than just layout and square footage — commute times to the Capitol can wear on people whose schedules are sliced into 15-minute increments.

Drawing a low number can mean the difference between a 20-minute hike from a tiny office and a 10-minute stroll from sumptuous digs.

And while location is important, the lottery for office space may mark the least serious contest the members will partake in during their time in Congress. The latest newbies greeted picks with mock sighs, grimaces and good-natured laughter. “I think the drawing this morning was the most fun we’ve had all week,” said Harper, an attorney who was just elected the freshman representative to the Republican Steering Committee.

The lottery, for the uninitiated: Freshmen arrived in the hearing room of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the last day of Washington orientation. There they found 28 of the staffers who manage the buildings seated in chairs usually reserved for members of Congress.

Freshmen (or their proxies) chose a button from a box brought out for this nerve-racking occasion. Lottery numbers are printed on special white buttons that are more than 35 years old and read “House Office Bldg.” in black lettering, with a number between 1 and 54.

Starting at 9 a.m. on this office-choosing bonanza day, Frank Tiscione, the superintendent of House office buildings, called out names in alphabetical order, and, like all excellent ringmasters, he riffed as he went along. When Rep.-elect Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) picked No. 54, Tiscione wryly proclaimed the selection, saying, “He’s got a benefit: He doesn’t have anything to do for the next four or five hours.”

And if members-elect missed their name being called — a fate that befell Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly — they waited until the end. As last pick, Connolly got No. 52. His response was to jokingly ask, “Who else wants to be on the 5th floor of Cannon?”

But Harper’s lucky 7 offered a more tantalizing reality: the possibility of his desired office. His goal? A room with a view, even if it turned out to be a view of the smokestacks at the congressional power plant.
He also hoped for a suite large enough that his seven incoming staffers and two interns would be as comfortable as he in their work spaces, which can kindly be described as cozy.