Hoyer Calls for ‘Modernizing’ House Approach to Staff Pay, Benefits

April 16, 2021 by TWN Staff
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told a Select Committee on Thursday that it’s high time Congress was brought into alignment with the best practices of the private sector when it comes to employee recruitment and retention.

Appearing before the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress during its “members’ day” session Thursday morning, Hoyer acknowledged the panel’s many accomplishments since he last appeared before it two years ago.

These included helping to champion the return of earmarks and the definitive steps it took to improve the House’s use of technology — especially in light of the chamber’s heavy reliance on virtual work during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The technological strides we’ve already made proved critical over the past year, when the pandemic led to Congress adapting to remote and virtual work like never before in its history. H. Res. 965 proved very successful in ensuring that the House could continue its work for the people unabated because of the progress we made with technology in the years that preceded the pandemic. Once the pandemic is behind us, I hope that this Committee will examine which technologies ought to continue in use and how best we can prepare for future contingencies,” he said.

The majority leader also recalled how he called for the creation of a new Congressional Digital Service, to further increase the technological prowess of the House, and how the Select Committee has since successfully piloted that idea.

“I hope that a permanent version of the program can be established in the 117th Congress,” Hoyer said.
But the majority leader also acknowledged that “modernizing” Congress “is about more than just upgrading technology.”

He noted that in his experience, those who come to work as congressional staff are deeply committed to public service and would remain on Capitol Hill longer if they could afford to do so.

“While private-sector employers have been investing in their workforces with better pay and benefits policies, Congress has failed to do the same,” he said. “Sadly, each year we lose talented and experienced staff with deep institutional knowledge to the private sector because we do not offer competitive compensation and benefits. At the same time, we are failing to recruit and retain the more diverse workforce that we have said we want to attract.

“There are a number of other reforms that I believe would help bring Congress into alignment with current best practices in employee recruitment and retention and help us add to the diversity of our workforce,” Hoyer continued.

“First, we need to modernize our approach to staff pay. That includes: de-linking staff pay from members’ pay levels; guaranteeing House staff a cost-of-living adjustment similar to those received by executive branch employees; and increasing the member representational allowance across the board, to allow for staff raises. Of course, I also believe that members ought to be provided with automatic cost-of-living adjustments so that we are not reducing the purchasing power of a member, as has happened over the years,” he said.

“In addition, the House ought to consider benefits changes to help attract and retain employees. We should review the benefits offered by the private sector that make them attractive employers,” Hoyer added. “Some of the items we should look at include: providing a child-care subsidy so that staff doesn’t have to choose between caring for children or continuing in their careers; offering a tax-advantaged college-savings benefit or ‘529 plan;’ making Congressional staff eligible for the public service loan forgiveness program; launching a fund to help staff meet the costs of adoption or fertility treatments not covered under insurance; creating a first-time homebuyer assistance benefit; and giving staff the option to return to the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program.”

He closed by urging the Committee to explore each of these proposals and thanked the panel for its continued efforts “to ensure that Congress not only serves the American people well but reflects the best of our country.”

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