With the 46th pick in the House of Representatives office draft, Bobby Schilling of Illinois chose Cannon 507, an 890-square-foot space with low-hanging ceilings, a view of the Capitol Dome, and a cage for summer interns.
That’s right, a cage for interns. With so little space, the current occupants of the office, Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and his staff, use the storage unit across the hall—which is filled with boxes, files, and a coffeemaker collecting dust on a shelf— as work space when they get extra help in the summer. The space, known as "the cage" for its chain-link fencing complete with a padlock, also doubles as a secondary meeting room for constituents and other visitors when the congressman’s own office is in use.
Earlier in the afternoon, all 85 representatives-elect drew numbers for their pick in the office lottery draft. The new members packed a conference room in Rayburn (a coveted office building with no vacancies for newcomers) and waited to be called up in front of everyone to make their pick. As they waited, some made friendly bets with their neighbors about which rooms would go when. The first pick went to Cory Gardner of Colorado, who chose Cannon 213, an office of about 950 square feet with big bay windows overlooking a parking lot and the smoking towers of a large factory (he may have had first pick, but he is still a freshman).
Gardner said he chose this office because it was close to the Metro and therefore provided easy access for his constituents.
If you don’t believe there could be a big difference between offices, tell that to the staff of Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., who are about to go through their third move since he was elected in 2006. Bilirakis first found himself cramped in a sixth-floor suite at the Longworth Office Building, located in a little-used hallway with one other congressman's office, a minor subcommittee on energy and minerals, and several storage rooms.
Two years later, he moved to a slightly larger office in the building, but ended up in a space without a divide between the waiting room and the workspaces. To remedy this, the staff hung a curtain and put a bookshelf up as a divider.
“You just have to be creative with your layouts, especially with offices with more people,” said Bilirakis spokesperson Creighton Welch. “It’s kind of like college dorms. It’s all about how you organize the office, but you don’t have to worry about posters, just files and paperwork.” As of next year, Bilirakis will be on the fourth floor of Cannon.
And while the last pick in this year’s draft stuck Virginia Republican Robert Hurt in 1516 Longworth, it’s generally the fifth floor of Cannon that has a reputation around Capitol Hill as housing the worst congressional offices. Converted from attic storage space to make room for a growing Congress, the fifth floor can only be reached by a few of the building’s elevators, one of which sits beside a men’s room in a tucked-away stairwell.
But not everyone has disdain for the floor that is sometimes referred to as “The Boy’s Freshman Dorm.” Gerrit Lansing, the New Media director for Roskam, says he takes offense when people trash-talk his soon-to-be-vacated workspace (they are moving to the second floor of Cannon for the next Congress).
“We love this office,” Lansing said. “We’ve got a great view of the Capitol, and there’s even a porch up here where there have been barbecues in the past.”
Another Republican aide who works on the fifth floor of Cannon said he fondly remembers the barbecues out on the “glorified rain gutter,” but he said that, sadly, this may no longer be a perk as the building’s chief administrative officer disallowed them. He said the grills are still out there paying homage to fun times past.
Lansing said the office was so great that it would “easily go within the first 15 picks of the freshman draft--well, maybe the first 20.” It went 46. But Lansing said he was glad to see that Schilling, a former pizza restaurant owner, could see beyond the stigma and take the office.
"Bobby Schilling clearly knows good pizza, good conservative policy, and a good steal on the fifth floor of Cannon when he sees one,” Lansing said. “Team Roskam is glad another good Illinois Republican will inherit our beloved 507."
But even Lansing admits that most offices on the fifth floor are less than ideal.
"If we were on the other side, without much of a view, it would just feel kind of like a cramped office in an attic," he said. "Yeah, I wouldn't want to be in most offices up here."