Earning on Their Feet: Standing in Line for Hearings Proves Profitable

Article excerpt

Like obedient second-graders, they form a straight line and are told not to push or cut in front of anyone. But these are not schoolchildren; they are warm bodies bought and paid for by Washington lobbyists.

"Linestanders" are paid $10 an hour to wait outside congressional hearing rooms for hours, even overnight, holding spaces in line for well-paid government watchers, who swoop in to grab spots as the doors swing open.

For lobbyists who pay $16 to $35 an hour to the firms that line up the linestanders - depending on the popularity of the hearing in question - it's money well-spent.

"I can stand in line and read, too, but it's not a very effective use of my time," said Joe Nipper, a lobbyist with the American Public Power Association.

"All you need is a warm body," said Mr. Nipper, who said his clients would pay a fortune for him to do what the linestanders do for a fraction of the cost.

Most of those warm bodies are students recruited by word of mouth from area colleges for two companies that do much of the business: CVK Group has been in business since 1990; Congressional Services Co. was started by a former CVK employee in 1993.

Each company has its own personality, and each claims to have a number of unique employees, such as a missile expert who says he appeared on CNN years ago and a homeless man who was hired while killing time riding the Metro.

"We're more laid-back," said John Likens, 27, the owner of Congressional Services. He said his workers sprawl out on congressional hallway floors in faded jeans and T-shirts to play cards and Monopoly.

The CVK crowd, on the other hand, would rather win a mental battle than the deed to Park Place. With stiff necks, pointing fingers and occasionally raised voices, they vigorously debate dense topics while they wait.

"The overthrow of the government comes up," said Paul Clarke, a CVK manager and self-proclaimed anarchist who prides himself on giving passing members of Congress, especially House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a hard time.

A series of debates among CVK workers on the differing theologies of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches contributed to one linestander's decision to enter an Orthodox seminary.

Bicycle couriers are also sent by their employers from time to time to hold places in line.

"They are pushy," said Marjorie Miles, a student at American University who just started linestanding this year. "And they butt."

But guards, who regularly remind the place holders to stand up and behave, usually intervene, she said. …