- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Fifty-seven days after an anthrax-packed letter caused the Hart Senate Office Building to close, half of the U.S. Senate and hundreds of congressional staffers are still in limbo squeezed into cramped offices and scattered around Capitol Hill.
Adding to the frustration of being displaced, one congressional staffer says she recently learned that all of the plants in her office have died.
Bette Phelan, a nine-year member of Louisiana Sen. John B. Breaux's staff, says things could be a lot worse at least the goldfish are OK.
Arrangements have been made, she said, to feed Mr. Breaux's beloved fish, circling in a bowl just a few doors down from where the anthrax letter was opened Oct. 15 in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday said it still is not sure that a toxic gas pumped last week into Mr. Daschle's office successfully killed lingering anthrax spores.
In the meantime, congressional staffers remain "doubled- and tripled-up in small spaces" around Capitol Hill, said Molly Rowley, a staffer for Mr. Daschle.
"In the past, we were always a close staff. We're getting a whole lot closer now, physically and emotionally."
Miss Rowley said one batch of displaced staffers, ousted from their offices on the sixth floor of the Hart building, found refuge in what for years has been a little-known, little-used pocket of the Russell Senate Office Building called the "Senate Knitting Room."
Staffers for the Democratic Policy Committee are filling every inch of the cramped spot with laptop computers and policy plans, but they can't use the cabinets because "there are still old balls of yarn and knitting needles in there," Miss Rowley said.
"It once was a place where senators' wives could kill some time and knit a sweater or a sock," she said. "Instead of making sweaters, we're trying to make some policy in that room now."
When the Hart building closed, Mr. Breaux, a Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Special Aging, was able to shift his staff into the committee's four small offices on the first floor of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
"We've sort of invaded these offices; we're really squeezing in," said Brian Weiss, a first-year staffer, who left a job in New York to work on Capitol Hill.
There are no plants or fish, but things are "comfy," said Miss Phelan.
"We're sharing phones, sharing faxes and computers. It's very primitive in a lot of ways," she said
Mr. Weiss said he took a job for Mr. Breaux to get closer to politics and he "certainly never expected to be running out of buildings [in which to work] and taking 60 days of antibiotics.
"But," he added, "I wouldn't even call our situation bad compared to what the postal workers have gone through we're just inconvenienced."
Miss Rowley, a seven-year member of the staff for Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said compared with past years, this year has been the most hectic.
There's never a dull moment, she said.
"The whole year's been a wild ride," Miss Rowley said.

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