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High-Tech Hideaway Is Natural Habitat For Pilot-Turned-Senator

February 15, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H., spends his days in solitude with his computer and his headset, working in a ″hideaway″ office where he feels like he’s back in a DC-9 cockpit.

Seventy-nine members of the Senate are assigned to the existing 79 Senate hideaways, little second offices where they are supposed to be able to reflect, away from the relentless demands of their time.

But, unlike most senators, Humphrey has turned his public, spacious office in the modern Hart office building over to his staffers and turned his one-man Capitol hideaway into a full-time, high-tech command center.

There, he sits alone, communicating with his staff all day by electronic message, convinced he is ″pushing ahead of Senate inertia.″

The circular room looks and feels like a cockpit, as Humphrey, a former Allegheny Airlines pilot, punches up computer displays, talks through his headset, and fiddles with the dials on his radio.

Back at the Hart building, every staffer sits at a computer terminal. There are no secretaries, no typewriters, and no paper except for computer printouts. Soft computer beeps announce an incoming message.

The staff calls the office the ″3C″ center, military jargon for command, control and communications.

″I love this stuff,″ Humphrey says, as he sits at the computer controls. ″I find the detachment very useful. There isn’t enough time to think and read around this place.″

Humphrey says there are parallels between his office and a cockpit. ″I’ve got everything at my fingertips,″ he says. ″You reach for dials in front of you, and reach things above your head.″

When the television set and radio are off, ″there’s only the sound of rushing air from the air conditioner. That’s similar to the sound of a jet cockpit.″

Humphrey boasts that his office is a wonderful time-saver, calculating it takes nearly 15 minutes for a round-trip between the Hart building and the Capitol for a vote. Now, he’s only a minute or two from the Senate chamber.

The hideaway, Humphrey insists, is not a place where he hides from his staff and constituents.

Staffers ″see me when they need to see me,″ he says. Any constituent desiring to see him is escorted to the hideaway.

Darryl Fountain, the senator’s former legal counsel who is now in private practice, says the system fits Humphrey’s personality as ″a very disciplined person.″

″Here’s somebody who was an airline pilot who was elected to his first office as a senator,″ Fountain says. ″He’s not a back-slapper. He’s not a B.S. artist. Most of the other senators had long years in public life. He does not have the typical political personality that finds him operating surrounded by staff.

″He’s a loner in the sense that he’s somebody who has not been compromised by Washington lifestyle, where you go to big receptions, parties and black-tie dinners. He doesn’t care about his standing vis-a-vis the Senate club.″

It’s time for Humphrey to check his phone messages. ″Strongly oppose Contras,″ one message says. ″Will names be turned over to FBI?″

Humphrey’s staffers also have learned to make maximum use of the computer, punching in ″fashion notes″ about each other’s clothes, ″wheels up″ invitations for after-work drinks, and contributing to an electronic suggestion box.

″Will the person who brings in sandwiches neatly wrapped in wax paper please eat them,″ says one message. ″Today we had to dispose of seven petrified sandwiches in seven individual greasy brown lunch bags.″

Although current Humphrey employees just chuckle when asked about it, former staffer Fountain says when one staffer wanted to razz another, he or she would send ″the electronic finger.″

That was a computer drawing of a hand, with an obscene gesture. It started out as a small hand. ″Some of us tried to outdo that with bigger ones,″ Fountain recalls. ″No one ever sent it to the senator.″

″We pride ourselves in taking technology to the limit,″ says administrative assistant Frank Bray, who wouldn’t talk about the finger.

Humphrey isn’t all business, either. When he cleaned out items from his home, he gave them away through the computer: a sofa, calculators, tape recorders, and even old cars.

″It seems more unusual from the outside,″ says Paul Young, a former special assistant now working for Rep. Jack Kemp’s presidential campaign. ″People have the perception he’s sitting in a black hole with no interaction with his people.″

Humphrey looks at one of the monitors. It reminds him to take his allergy shots and his vitamins.

″Do you want to talk to the staff about the system?″ Humphrey asks at the end of the interview.

A reporter agreed, and Humphrey tried to telephone his press secretary. No answer.

″This is the problem when you rely on the phones,″ says Humphrey, who quickly sent a computer message that brought a fast response.

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