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CAO: Cluttered Hallways Pose Risk in House

Under a proposal now under consideration by House officials, Members and their staffs could soon be required to keep the hallways outside their offices clear of items such as furniture and billboards.

The office of the Chief Administrative Officer, along with the Architect of the Capitol, is recommending that prohibition to address public safety issues, as well as to comply with federal workplace regulations.

CAO Jay Eagen said during a House Administration Committee hearing Thursday that the proposal would eliminate the placement of trash and other items in hallways, although it would allow exceptions for temporary storage.

Both the House Building Commission — composed of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — and House Administration are reviewing the recommendation submitted in late May.

During the hearing, House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) questioned whether many of the items that populate corridors create a safety hazard during evacuations.

“If you have smoke and you have to get down, are you going to run into these things and are they going to fall over?” Ney asked, referring to signs displayed outside various offices.

In addition, others on the panel including ranking member Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) and Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) criticized the storing of items in hallways, asserting that it creates poor aesthetics.

“It looks like a junk yard … desk chairs, lamps just perched out there,” Ehlers said. “It’s incomprehensible and should not be allowed.”

Although the House must comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations and the Americans With Disabilities Act, no formal policy exists on the placement of items in hallways.

“In recent years this has become much more of a problem,” explained a House aide, citing numerous fire drills and other evacuations as the emergency planning has developed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“We just want to set one uniform policy,” the aide added.

Among the items that would like be affected are signs maintained by the Blue Dog Coalition that feature national debt figures.

Blue Dog spokesman Eric Wortman, who noted the group has not received complaints alleging the signs could be a safety hazard, said the conservative Democrats would likely request to keep the boards on display.

“We would probably ask permission to affix them to the walls, and put them up flat,” Wortman said.

It is not clear whether the regulations would impact the offices of Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), all of whom maintain staff operations in hallways adjacent to their offices.

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