- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

Senate staffers forced to work from makeshift offices since anthrax contamination closed the Hart Senate Office Building on Oct. 17 are guardedly optimistic their exile in cramped work space with shared computers, phones and desks will end soon.

They have heard various rumors of when the Hart building will reopen, but many do not want to be too optimistic.

"We won't believe we're going into the Hart building until they unlock the doors," said David DiMartino, spokesman for Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat.

The Hart building, which houses offices for half of the U.S. Senate's 100 members, was closed two days after an anthrax-laced letter was opened in the building's fifth-floor office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

Mr. Daschle has said last weekend's fumigation of the heating and ventilation system around his office was "very effective" in killing the remaining anthrax spores, and there is a "reasonable possibility" the building could be reopened sometime this month, perhaps as early as next week.

But Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Bonnie Piper said the building would not reopen next week because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must review test results once they become available. The EPA was chemically treating 11 Hart offices where trace amounts of anthrax were found.

Congressional aides got another anthrax scare yesterday, when a suspicious letter was found in Mr. Daschle's office in the Capitol building. Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said preliminary tests showed the letter did not contain hazardous materials.

Regarding the reopening of the Hart building, Mr. Nichols yesterday said: "We've made some significant progress, and these are some of the final phases of the remediation process, but we're not there yet."

The Hart building's fire alarms, elevators, heating and other systems also must be tested before it can be reoccupied, said Bruce Milhans, spokesman for the Office of the Architect of the Capitol.

Senators with offices in the Hart building had to divide their aides among other locations.

"We've learned to adapt to the circumstances, but getting back will certainly make life less challenging," said Jim Farrell, spokesman for Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat. Half of Mr. Wellstone's aides are working from the Senate's Russell building, sharing the office suite of Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat.

Some aides work at a government building a few blocks from the Capitol, and resources are limited.

Depending on the day, five to eight aides share two computers and two phones in some Russell space, said Andy Fisher, spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican.

As many as 14 aides to Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, share three computers and five phones in a small office in the Russell building, said Mr. Kyl's spokesman Matt Latimer.

The displaced senators work out of small rooms in the Capitol building.

"It's been difficult to concentrate, difficult to hold meetings," Mr. Latimer said. "Everyone is anxious to get back."

"You leave your desk for a couple of minutes, and when you return, someone is on your computer checking their e-mail," said Mr. Farrell, who added that it is difficult to track down aides moving among temporary locations.

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