“No food, no drinks,” instructed Capitol Police officers posted outside the doors of the Capitol Visitor Center as tourists approached the complex on a recent muggy day.
A blonde woman sporting a ponytail and backpack drained her 8-ounce plastic bottle and held it up to show the cops it was empty. She was waved toward the doors.
While visitors are allowed to carry water bottles, and can fill them up once they are inside, the guides who spend eight hours a day walking them through the Capitol and talking about Congress complain that their access to water has been severely limited by CVC management.
CVC officials told CQ Roll Call that standard operating procedure related to drinking water at employee posts has not changed. Tom Fontana, director of marketing and communications for the CVC, said the policy is reviewed on an annual basis, and noted in his email there have been “no changes to our guidelines.”
However, union leaders say the way the bosses have recently tightened interpretation and enforcement of the policy has pushed it to the point that drinking water while on duty has effectively been outlawed.
Water became an issue after the anthrax attacks on the Capitol in 2001, which radically changed the public’s access to the complex. Visitors were banned from bringing food or water into the building, because it was determined containers could be used to smuggle the substance into the Capitol. But employees of the Capitol Guide Service were still allowed to drink clear liquids in front of the visitors they escorted.