And it isn't necessarily all paperwork and photos of dignitaries—one Dingell aide said a taxidermist is coming to help take care of his many hunting trophies, including antelope, deer, and boar.
Other outgoing members have obstacles of their own. Rep. Spencer Bachus has switched offices only twice in his 20-plus years in Congress, thanks to an expansive, hard-to-move model train collection that fills his office's shelves. That, too, will need to be packed up.
Some offices have unearthed long-lost artifacts. Rep. Ed Pastor found a cassette tape of "Tip O'Neill's Favorite Boston/Irish Stories & Tunes." He tried to give it away, but no one on his staff had a cassette player.
Congressional staffers in some offices have been coming to work in recent weeks clad in blue jeans and T-shirts, more prepared to lug around boxes and take down pictures than to guide dignitaries around the Capitol. "It's been a nice mixture of chaos and reminiscence and a good feeling of throwing things we probably should have thrown out years ago," said Lee Brooks, press secretary for Rep. Tom Petri.
But underlings aren't doing all the work. Some members, like Pastor, have had to come in on weekends just to get through the packing. Rep. Jim Moran was spotted shuffling down the hall, all by himself, lugging a heavy cardboard box.
Outgoing members have until the end of the week to be out of their offices, and they'll spend the last few months of their time in office in small cubicles in the Rayburn basement, with only a phone, a computer, and two chairs. "It's an ignominious end to a 30-year career," joked Ed McDonald, chief of staff for Rep. Howard Coble. "Nice to see you, goodbye, thanks for playing. We don't care where you go, but you're not staying here."
And as the departing representatives spend their final days packaging years' worth of stuff, long-serving veterans have been making the rounds looking for potential office upgrades. The legislators want everything from better views to expanded floor space to a more convenient location.
Members are thrown into lotteries with colleagues of equal seniority, starting with those who have served seven or more terms. As they work down the ranks, more and more offices get snatched up—until many of the freshmen are inevitably forced to trudge to their new digs on the dreaded fifth floor of the Cannon House Office Building.
Staffers for the longest-serving outgoing members said anywhere from 20 to "dozens" of fellow members and aides have come by to scout their offices. In some cases, the results have been comical.
Within a span of 24 hours, four different members held a claim—however briefly—to Coble's Capitol-facing, first-floor Rayburn office. After Rep. Jim Cooper released his initial claim on the office, it fell back into play—but then seniority trumped the lottery results. Rep. John Shimkus decided he would take the office. "His staff's coming by, they're all excited they're going to get this office," McDonald said. "They're looking around where they're going to sit and everything."