Washington (CNN) - House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Monday they are ending the House page program, which employs about 70 high school age students each semester and summer to study in Washington and serve as messengers around the Capitol complex.
The program, instituted in the 1820s, has come under fire several times for scandals involving inappropriate contact with members, as well as underage drinking and drug use. In 2006 reports surfaced that then Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley had sent several inappropriate messages of a sexual nature to former House pages.
Foley resigned shortly after the email messages were revealed, but an ethics committee investigation ensued and a separate review of the page program, itself. Leaders added new oversight responsibilities for the "page board," made up of members of Congress and others who oversee the program.
Boehner and Pelosi notified House members Monday that they began a comprehensive review of the program by independent consultants in 2008 and decided to end it after the current summer session because the page program is too expensive and no longer needed.
In a joint statement, the two top House leaders explained, "This decision was not easy, but it is necessary due to the prohibitive cost of the program and advances in technology that have rendered most Page-provided services no longer essential to the smooth functioning of the House."
The two leaders noted, as examples, that pages are no longer needed to deliver packages all over Capitol Hill because so many documents are sent electronically; and they're no longer relied on to relay phone messages to lawmakers on the House floor because members tend to use their Blackberries.
The leaders' review found that the program cost over $5 million a year to administer, not including the costs of housing the students at the nearby dormitory on Capitol Hill, plus the cost of the school the high school juniors are required to attend at the Library of Congress.
At a time when Congress is struggling to reduce spending, including cutting its own costs, the "per page" cost of $69,000 to $80,000 per school year was a steep number to sustain. In addition to taking classes, pages get paid a monthly salary for their work fielding messages and running errands for members during House sessions.
Both leaders pledged to include other ways for young people to engage in Congress' work but did not mention any specific plans.
Several current members of Congress served as pages, including the current Dean of the House, Michigan Democrat John Dingell.
According to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid's office, the program for Senate pages will continue.