Washington — It took a major scandal to bring action, but Congress finally is on the brink of reforming its long-neglected page program.
As the probe continues into charges of cocaine use and homosexual activities among some members and pages, a House panel has released a plan that would overhaul the page system. It would provide the first-ever supervision for the youngsters, who serve as errand runners for Congress for a salary of about $8, 000 a year.
The 100 high school students would be housed together in a building now used for House offices, according to recommendations from the Speaker's Commission on Pages. House Annex One, as the building is now called, would undergo a $300,000 renovation and become a co-ed dormitory, with boys and girls on separate floors. The Senate pages could be included if the Senate opts to go along with the House plan.
While the current system covers all high school years, the new program would require pages to be 11th graders, thus streamlining the program. They would be limited to a stay of one semester.
''We felt the pages received a bum rap from the highly publicized scandal,'' said Rep. Bill Alexander, commission chairman, as he released the report Aug. 18 . ''Overall, they perform their work admirably with little recognition.''
Mr. Alexander, an Arkansas Democrat, also said pages have been the victims of neglect. However, the page system should continue because ''the cost of replacing the pages would be astronomical.''
If the commission report is implemented, it will resolve the most critical problem - the almost total independence of the youngsters. Although they are as young as 14 in the Senate and 16 in the House, the youths are expected to find their own housing. Most now live in private rooming houses and apartments on Capitol Hill streets, which can be dangerous at night. The new system also would provide dormitory counselors and Capitol Hill police protection.