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Please Dress Better, Mica Implores

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) knew that Congressional aides often dress down when the boss is out of town. But it wasn’t until he found himself stuck in the Capitol on a recent off-day that he discovered what passes for casual dress among some of tomorrow’s leaders: jeans, ripped jeans.

“It was appalling,” Mica said.

Now Mica, one of the barons who oversees the chamber from his seat on the House Administration Committee, is on a crusade to tidy things up. In a “Dear Colleague” letter Tuesday, the Florida lawmaker asked other Members to enforce minimum standards for attire in their offices.

“Even on weekdays when the House is not in session, citizens from all over the nation visit the United States Capitol and our offices, and it is disappointing that professional congressional staff sometimes act with such disregard of even basic dress standards,” Mica wrote, calling such slovenliness “disrespectful” and a “disservice” to the institution.

Dress codes are not alien to the House. Congressmen, for instance, are required to wear jacket and tie in the chamber — just as male members of the press corps must wear jacket and tie to interview them in the room adjacent to the chamber known as the Speaker’s Lobby.

Standards for women are less clearly stated, though the press galleries in recent years posted a reminder that reporters should wear appropriate “professional” dress after one female scribe — taking a cue perhaps from Britney Spears — bore her midriff. This expression of contemporary fashion drew protests from Members.

In spite of this, even Mica acknowledges that prospects for a chamber-wide dress code are bleak — an observation shared by the chairman of House Administration, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio).

“I understand what John’s saying, but how do you make a dress code?” Ney wondered, noting that every office is given a great deal of discretion in determining how it is run. Ney, who has been asked by Mica to examine the issue, called efforts to impose a dress code “impractical.”

Dress codes would seem to be a fixation peculiar to the Republicans. After all, it was not long ago that many in the GOP (and the military, for that matter) complained about the relatively lax standards for dress that existed in the Clinton White House — starting with President Bill Clinton himself, who could often be found in the Oval Office in his shirt sleeves.

Clinton’s habiliments on those occasions were contrasted unfavorably with those of President Ronald Reagan, who as a matter of respect for the institution of the presidency never entered the Oval Office without a jacket and tie — a practice duplicated by the current President Bush.

Mica’s concerns about loose standards are not limited to the attire of staffers. In his letter to colleagues, Mica also called attention to the “growing problem” of trash-strewn hallways in the Congressional office buildings.

Mica described the trash situation around the Congressional workplace as “medieval,” calling attention to the way the ancients would cast their garbage into the streets to get rid of it. The more genteel practice of the modern Congress is to collect piles of trash and other throw-aways outside of offices for eventual removal.

“In the private sector you’d probably be fined,” Mica said, citing the obstruction created by the accumulated trash. He has referred the matter to the Office of Compliance, which monitors the House’s adherence to matters such as workplace safety rules.

Ney, for his part, indicated that his committee would be exploring the trash question. Mica’s solution: Put the trash out at the end of the work day, or ask the House Superintendent to come pick it up.

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