Navigating the Hill: Part 1
Before you get the chance to be in the interesting meetings with high-level hill staff and Members of Congress, you have to figure out how to get around Capitol Hill. The good news is this is easier than it seems, and it impresses people who are new to the hill when you can navigate seamlessly through the tunnels and easily tick off all the items they aren’t allowed to bring into the Capitol Visitor Center!
On the House side of the Capitol, there are three buildings that house Members’ personal offices as well as committee rooms. These are Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn.
Each building is assigned a number (Cannon is 0, Longworth is 1, Rayburn is 2), so if you are going to Cannon 345, you’d find that on the third floor like in any normal building. The strange part is finding Longworth 1345 and Rayburn 2345 on the third floor of those buildings as well. (Also, just for fun, Cannon has a fifth floor that can only be accessed by certain elevators).
On the Senate side you also have three buildings: Russell, Hart and Dirksen. Each of these houses personal offices and committee offices.
The Capitol Visitor Center is the gateway into the Capitol building for the public and has meeting rooms that frequently host briefings and events.
Now, a few protips:
The House and Senate side have elevators marked for “Members Only” when they’re in session and votes are happening. Sometimes you can ride these and no one says anything, sometimes this happens. Wait for the regular elevator.
If you’re stuck between meetings and have time to kill, head for the Longworth Basement. There’s plenty of seating and food options as well as excellent people-watching.
The entirety of Capitol Hill is connected via tunnels and a subway. The subway connects the House side and Senate side to the Capitol, but sadly only staffers (or people WITH staffers), can take the subway or access the Capitol that way. The House buildings and Senate buildings are connected as well via their basement levels, and fortunately for those of us on the hill in August, those are accessible to everyone and keep you from having to go in and out of buildings and through security multiple times.
Speaking of security on the hill, Capitol Police work really hard (and are excellent direction guides if you do get lost), so taking off your new statement necklace and putting your cellphone in your bag before you get to security is much appreciated by everyone. When you do set off the metal detectors, know that it’s inconveniencing everyone else as much as it is you, so a little preparation goes a long way.
And, finally, if you have to go to the Capitol Visitor Center for an event, travel light – no food, no liquids, no empty coffee mugs (RIP trusty travel mug from my undergrad). Those guys don’t mess around.
Stay tuned for Navigating the Hill: Part 2 to learn about how hill offices are structured and what hill staff do (when the government is running, that is)! It’ll be full of information that will make staffers eager to return your emails, take your meetings and ultimately get you hired for your dream job.
Laura Odato is the Director of Government Affairs at the Cato Institute and a generally awesome source of info on the hill.
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