Backstory: For new lawmakers, a room with no view

A humorous look at what may await incoming freshmen members of Congress.

FROM: Staff director, House Select Committee on Administration of the Whole

TO: Incoming Freshmen members of Congress

RE: New offices, and the outfitting thereof

Dear Sir/Madam/Independent:

Pursuant to House Rule 14-987, section three, paragraph four, welcome. We offer congratulations on your recent election to the House of Representatives. We are certain that you, your immediate family members, and, indeed, all your electoral supporters, are excited following your victory, and are filled with hope for the future. Rest assured that your physical work environment will reflect all that you deserve.

A. House offices are assigned by seniority. Most freshmen receive space in House Annex Nine and Three-Quarters, conveniently located in Rock Creek Park, only six miles from the US Capitol. Taxi service and mass transit are a short scramble up the ravine. It is true that rooms in this building are somewhat irregular, due to its previous use as the National Zoo's Small Mammal Pavilion. Yet most occupants find that their perception of the smell diminishes with time. Visiting constituents can enjoy the inset tiles depicting the life cycle of the tapir.

B. Furnishings can be selected from the Select Committee fundraising catalog, or ordered online at Freshmen are allowed one futon, a black-light poster, and three milk crates at government expense. Members are welcome to supplement this allocation with objects of their own, but they should bear in mind that the federal government is not responsible for damage inflicted by the cleaning crew's high-pressure hose.

C. Offices must not deviate from accepted Washington décor. The Code of Federal Regulations puts it this way: "A reasonable person, upon entering any US government place of business, must feel all wellsprings of creativity diminish, to the point of torpor and ennui." Constituent-produced art is banned, as are neon signs and garden statuary. Family photos are allowed, provided all members depicted, including pets, appear to be stuffed.

D. Again this year, both the speaker and the minority leader have asked us to remind incoming members that it is illegal to accept campaign contributions on federal property, unless your approval rating is under 40 percent and election day is less than six months away. Lobbyists are allowed to pay up to $50 for members' meals – in Washington, that buys a bit of pompano and a fingerling potato – unless they run into you "accidentally," in which case anything goes. New members eager to line their pockets should remember that they're only powerless underlings and will thus be ignored by anyone with real money.

E. Members wishing a friend will find dogs available at the local animal shelter, which is located near the intersection of New York Avenue and Brentwood Parkway. Have a nice term.

Peter Grier is a Monitor writer in Washington.

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