Three months, four days and 17 hours after an anthrax-tainted letter to Senator Tom Daschle forced our “temporary” relocation from our offices in the Hart Senate Office Building, 50 Senators and our staffs were finally, allowed to return this week.
We did the best we could to continue representing Arizona in the Senate under the circumstances - and I am thankful for the patience and sympathy expressed by so many of you back home.
Many of you have asked what it’s been like being displaced from my office. For the past months, my Washington, D.C. staff was divided into three separate offices, spread across Capitol Hill. We shared computers, telephones and even chairs. We held meetings in hallways, in offer empty offices, or space borrowed from our colleagues.
My “temporary” office measured about 8 by 12 feet -- and was shared by seven or eight of us. We had two computers, one printer, and four telephones that all seemed to ring at once. A coffee pot was moved to the floor to conserve space on the small table we shared. The windowless room was so fax back into the caverns of the Capitol Building that most visitors had trouble finding it. When we ran out of chairs, we stood or knelt. When we ran out of computers, we waited. When we ran out of patience, we went somewhere else.
Unfortunately, many of you have had to be patient as well. To those of you who have sent in letters over the past few months, I regret to report that most of that mail still has not been delivered to my office. Since October 17, all incoming mail for Congress has been placed in box cars to await irradiation to kill any anthrax spores that any letter might contain. It was amid those piles of letters, packages, and papers that an anthrax-tainted letter to Senator Patrick Leahy was found several weeks ago. Thanks to the new security measures, thousands of workers at the Capitol were protected from exposure to lethal doses of the bacteria.
Unfortunately, these new precautions also mean that delays in answering your correspondence will continue, at least for a while.
If you have an urgent need to be in touch, I encourage you to call me in Washington, D.C. (202-224-4521), Phoenix (602-840-1891) or Tucson (520-575-8633). If your concern or request can wait for a while, then feel free to drop me a letter and I will answer it as quickly as possible.
After three months, all of us were anxious to get back to our own desks and offices. In fact, when some reporters asked me if I had any concerns about going back into the building, I told them that my biggest concern is what we would find in our refrigerator. And what we found is best left to the imagination.
Along with that, most of our plants had died, including some that I had nurtured to just the right size. Faxes overflowed out machines. A faint odor of chemicals - used to kill the anthrax bacteria - still lingers in corridors.
While we were all very fortunate that the situation was not much worse, the circumstances put an enormous strain on my staff and other Senate staffers who continued to do their jobs under very unusual, difficult and sometimes anxious conditions. These are mostly young people - some of whom are in their first jobs - who often are not paid nearly what they are worth, work long hours, and get insufficient recognition. I am very proud of each and every one of them.
I thank them for their service and I thank you for your continued patience and understanding.