WASHINGTON — A Washington ethics watchdog says it's time for Congress to crack down on lawmakers who sleep in their offices rather than pay for a place to live.
Reacting to a surge in congressmen bunking down in their work spaces, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wants the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether the politicians are getting an unfair tax break and violating their own rules by making personal use of public resources.
"House office buildings are not dorms or frat houses," Melanie Sloan, the group's executive director, said Thursday. "If members didn't want to find housing in Washington, they shouldn't have run for Congress in the first place."
For years, at least a few lawmakers have slept on couches and cots in their offices to avoid long commutes or pricey Washington rents. Some see it as a badge of honor, a commitment to frugality and hard work, and a reminder to constituents they don't consider Washington home.
CREW cited media reports that more than 30 lawmakers, all men, are now doing it. Sloan thinks the real total could be as many as 40 or 50 after a wave of budget-conscious, anti-Washington freshmen won seats in November.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, has slept in his office for years. Ryan, R-Wis., brushed aside questions about the complaint.
"People have been doing it for decades," he said. "I work until midnight every night. I get up at six every morning."
Another longtime office-sleeper, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said he'll move out if the rules change. But he said it is more convenient for him to stay in the Capitol complex.
A spokesman for the Office of Congressional Ethics declined to comment except to say that the office had received CREW's letter, which maintains that the free living arrangements amount to a taxable benefit that should be reported to the IRS. Several congressional officials said they weren't aware of any rules or guidance specifically addressing the matter.
Sloan said that aside from the legal and rules questions, she has heard reports from congressional staffers about uncomfortable work environments.
"Especially if you're a woman and you're working late and your boss is there getting ready for bed, that seems designed for discomfort," she said.
Besides, she added, "who wants to run into a member of Congress in need of a shower wandering the halls in sweats or a robe?"
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington: http://www.citizensforethics.org/