House Leaders announced on Monday that they are shutting down the House page program, a nearly 200-year-old institution which allowed high school students to serve as messengers and learn about the Congress.
House of Representatives Speaker, John Boehner, and Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, said that advances in technology and the use of Internet, BlackBerrys and other similar devices had rendered page-provided services obsolete. Moreover, in current cost-cutting times, the $5 million annual expense of the program could not be justified as messages and other materials are delivered electronically, they said in a statement.
The program will end by Aug. 31.
Before the era of Internet and personal electronic devices, pages were used to deliver correspondence, phone messages and documents to members, committees and leadership offices. Pages were nominated by representatives based upon a highly competitive application process.
"We have great appreciation for the unique role that pages have played in the history and traditions of the House of Representatives," Boehner and Pelosi said in their statement.
"This decision was not easy, but it is necessary due to the prohibitive cost of the program and advances in technology that have rendered most page-provided services no longer essential to the smooth functioning of the House. Although the traditional mission of the Page Program has diminished, we will work with members of the House to carry on the tradition of engaging young people in the work of the Congress."
The two leaders decided to end the House page program after an independent review of the program.
"The 2008 study identified total annual costs of the program in excess of $5 million, not including capital costs associated with the Page dormitory and school. The study calculated per-page costs for a two-semester school year of $69,000 to $80,000 per year, depending on the size of each semester's class," the joint statement said.
Pages were mostly high school juniors sponsored by their member of Congress to spend at least a semester living, working and studying on Capitol Hill. Pages earn about $1,800 a month.
Today the pages "are severely underutilized," the letter said.
The page program was in place to educate young students about the government. However the program has had its share of scandals. In 2006, former GOP Rep. Mark Foley of Florida resigned after reports that he sent sexually explicit electronic messages to underage former pages.
Nonetheless, the page program has been held in esteem by many. A number of pages have gone on to assume significant stations in their lives. Many current and former members of the Congress, such as Sen. Roger Wicker and former Sen. Chris Dodd were pages. Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates was also a page.
The Senate page program, however, will continue.