Congratulations to Washington City Paper and to Amanda Ripley for the timely article about Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman, my boss. Titled “Master of the House” (6/25), it would have been more appropriately styled “(Slave)Master of the House.” Thanks so much for saying what needs to be said, and in so fine a fashion.
I have been the assistant night superintendent of the House Office Buildings for the past eight-and-a-half years, so I am in some position to verify many of the things said by Architect employees in Ripley’s article. Sad, but true: Of the several government operations sometimes called the “last plantation,” our agency wins the title, hands down.
My total service with the Architect comes to about 16 years (I started as a Senate laborer), but I had previous federal government service of 17 years, for a total of nearly 33 years (and yes, I have signed up for a buyout this October). But this gives me some perspective on the Architect operation vis-a-vis other government agencies. The Architect’s office has been the most medieval and the most racist (both overtly and covertly) government agency I have ever worked for.
I am African-American, the first African-American assistant superintendent of any of the Congressional office buildings, but my title has been rendered mostly ceremonial by the policies of upper management, and my actual power to effect better working conditions and diversity for the rank and file has been steadily undermined since Day One of my appointment (Sept. 1, 1990).
Nor have I escaped personal retribution. For talking to a Roll Call reporter, Juliet Eilperin (now of the Washington Post, I believe), a few years back, even before there was a union, I was threatened with 30 days’ “street time,” suspension without pay, when Roll Call printed my remarks. However, the Constitution won out over this attempted travesty, and the action was rescinded. Nevertheless, I continue to refuse to just go along with the status quo.
I think the agency as a whole has a real problem in that it continues to see blacks, in particular, as less than human: things to use as the agency will, not as real people. Black workers have seldom been respected as human beings (i.e., the same as whites) over here. Second-class citizens? Third-class is more like it. And despite the window dressing of “Architect’s Mobility Programs” and the like, the fundamental problem of viewing blacks as less means that little actual change has occurred insofar as opening up higher-level jobs for black Architect employees.
Everything Richard Harrison and Hazel Dews said in the article is accurate and true. Unfortunately.
Assistant Night Superintendent
House Office Buildings
via the Internet