"When you open a door, you never know what you're going to find. We have found stuffed wolves that scared the pants off a man. Right around the corner was a big canoe that we had to pull out," says Vince Incitto.
Cordell Shields explained, "The wolf was just inside the door, facing me. When I opened the door, it looked like it was alive, and I jumped back about three feet."
You might think that Incitto and Shields are describing enclosures at the National Zoo or attics at the Smithsonian, but they're actually explaining some of the challenges of moving the storerooms of the House Office Buildings.
Every two years, citizens across the country elect or re-elect members of the House of Representatives, who then come to Washington to move into their offices. Many Hill denizens are familiar with the monumental effort that is required to move new and returning members into their offices in time for the new session of Congress.
However, even on the Hill, few people are aware that behind the scenes, the Architect of the Capitol also moves thousands of boxes and other items among the members' storerooms – and it did so last year in a cost-saving way with no reduction in service. These rooms hold those items that members don't have space for in their offices, such as excess stationery, artwork and other office supplies.
Incitto said, "We expect anything. One had a surfboard in it."
As a result, the four-person crews of House laborers who move each storeroom come prepared, according to Shields. "We don't let anything stop us. We bring flat trucks for all the boxed items, boxes for the loose items, and rolling bins for anything that won’t fit in those." Given the amount of correspondence each member transacts, it’s not uncommon for the rooms to be full of stationery, which can be heavy, "So, we can bring a pallet jack, put all the boxes on a skid, shrink wrap them and move them faster that way," said Shields.
The crews have to move fast. Each one has four moves scheduled each day of a six-day workweek over several weeks, which is necessary to ensure the members have the supplies they need to start the new session of Congress. In addition, Incitto has to ensure that the labor crews get all their regular work done — making deliveries, cleaning spills and so forth.
Vince Incitto, AOC Labor Supervisor, ensures that each storeroom move occurs on schedule.
Last year, rather than keeping on a large group of temporary employees to assist with the storeroom moves as has been done in the past, the House Superintendent’s office released the temporary employees after the office moves were done as a cost-saving measure. This meant that, for the first time, all of the storeroom moves had to be done by AOC employees, and this task tested them on many levels.
By all accounts, the House laborers passed with flying colors, completing the moves on time and at a lower cost than in past years — all while maintaining the daily services they are relied on for. Doing so required coordination across the various shops of the House Superintendent's office. Each storeroom had to be rekeyed, for example, at the same time every House office was being rekeyed. If there was furniture to be moved or a member was leaving the House and needed their belongings shipped home, the laborers had to coordinate with the House Chief Administrative Officer to deliver those items. And the laborers had to coordinate their own efforts.
Shields explained that after doing this for many years, "We have a good little system. For example, the crew that’s moving out cleans up — wipes down the shelves, cleans the floor — so that the crew that's coming in, the storeroom is clean for them already."
Thinking through details like that is what helped keep the laborers on schedule while saving the cost of paying temporary employees. Their can-do attitude and work ethic also paved the way to their success, as well as their ability to take the unexpected in stride.
As Incitto said, "Variety is the spice of life."
Willing to overcome any challenge, the House Office Buildings laborers continuously improve service delivery and efficiency, even if they have to face down a wolf to do it.
This story is also published in the Fall 2014 issue of AOC's Foundations & Perspectives.