Loading...

Report Highlights Series of Proposals to Reverse Capitol Hill Brain Drain

September 24, 2020 by Dan McCue
Report Highlights Series of Proposals to Reverse Capitol Hill Brain Drain
An empty hallway in the Dirkson Office Building. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – In their recent report of Capitol Hill staffing issues, authors Alexandra Furnas and Timothy LaPira paint a harrowing picture of a culture that basically pushes its best resource — its people — to the private sector and away from public service.

But Furnas and LaPira do more than toss a scholarly hand grenade into the fray and run away.

They go on the New America-published tract to offer a number of possible solutions, some of them purely aspirational, they admit, but others imminently doable.

They are:

  • Acknowledge bipartisan and bicameral institutional neglect. Members in both chambers—and in both parties—must acknowledge that the Congress they have inherited has less capacity to govern than that of only a decade or two ago. The bipartisan, bicameral problem demands bipartisan, bicameral cooperation to reinvigorate the legislative branch.
  • Reorganize Congress. Congress has not seriously reconsidered how its rules, structure, and organization are outdated, inefficient, and inadequate for their constituents’ needs. Congress should authorize a bicameral, bipartisan, and simple majority-rule joint committee with sufficient resources to do more than merely recommend trivial improvements that existing standing committees and elected officers in each respective chamber are already considering.
  • Pay staff more. The cost of living adjusted wages for entry- and mid-level congressional staff who work 50 hours per week or more is paltry for supposedly the most professional legislature in the world.
  • Overhaul the MRA. The House of Representatives does not adequately manage member office operations. The MRA is not a meaningful strategic planning and budgeting tool, so it should be significantly restructured by first identifying overhead expenses in member personal offices that may be fully centralized, including basic information technology and routine office functions. The MRA should also structure a reasonable allowance for district and Washington personnel that accounts for local cost of living and health care benefits.
  • Assess and reward high-performing offices. Members have little incentive other than their own reelection to change how they operate their offices. There should be routine mechanisms to reward offices for excellent performance, such as low turnover, long average tenure rates, professional development achievements, and other measurable objectives for service.
  • Discard overall FTE and staff sharing limitations. Though the Senate does not necessarily pay staff more than the House after controlling for things like age and experience, the Senate does outperform the House in recruiting older, more experienced staff. The House could compete better if it no longer inhibited members’ flexibility in building the staff rosters they prefer.
  • Restore balance to Washington and district work. The decades-long shift in staffing resources from Washington to the district is the consequence of much larger political forces in American politics, but it is not unrelated to how members’ use their official allowances.
  • Members now face no limitation on how much they use taxpayer resources to conduct constituent services, most of which is for legitimate representation needs. But, Congress’s first priority is to govern, which requires members’ presence and attention while assembled in Washington.
  • Allocating more resources to the “policy shop” is one way that members can assert their institutional prerogatives to influence legislation and oversight. This reallocation ought to be part of a comprehensive reconsideration of how members’ time in Washington is spent, such as reducing “call time” and reelection fundraising.
  • Pay interns. The pipeline for working in Congress is fit only for those with sufficient privilege and resources to accept non-paying or extremely low-paying employment. Recent funds allocated for internships are a good start, but are not sufficient. Congress should rethink internships in congressional offices as public service apprenticeships.
  • Centralize the legislative staff labor market process. Members of Congress exploit a race-to-the-bottom legislative staff labor market, and fail to recognize that their market extends beyond Capitol Hill.
  • Both parties free-ride on the prestige of working in Congress by continuing to use informal networks to recruit and retain staff. Such informal networks are especially problematic for traditionally underrepresented groups.
  • Proactively recruit, retain, and promote a diverse staff. Congressional offices should be rewarded for recruiting, retaining, and promoting staff to better represent women, people of color, and others who are not typically represented among staff. Congress should create a joint Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and go further to support efforts such as the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies “Hill Diversity” initiative.
  • Improve labor market transparency. Congress should develop routinely updated guidelines for pay, job title definitions, job descriptions, and occupational ranks and steps based on demonstrable knowledge, skills, and abilities.
  • Slow the revolving door. Congress needs to offer staff a reason to stay, including a work environment that makes full use of their intrinsic public service motivation.
  • Sponsor and reward professional development. Congress should partner with the political reform community, federal agencies, private sector organizations, staff affinity groups, universities, and think tanks to develop bipartisan professional development standards and expertise certification.
  • Create a venue for staff to offer feedback. Staff—especially those who are young and junior—have very few opportunities to offer feedback without fear of retribution.

In The News

Health

Voting

Congress

May 23, 2022
by Dan McCue
House Panel to Investigate Cawthorn Tie to Crypto, Alleged Relationship With Staffer

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee announced Monday that it has begun an investigation into allegations Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C.,... Read More

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee announced Monday that it has begun an investigation into allegations Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., improperly promoted a cryptocurrency and engaged in an “inappropriate relationship” with a member of his staff. The committee did not elaborate on the allegations.  In a... Read More

May 19, 2022
by Dan McCue
New Dems Push Commerce to Speed Solar Tariff Investigation

WASHINGTON — Members of the New Democrat Coalition on Thursday urged the Commerce Department to step up the pace of... Read More

WASHINGTON — Members of the New Democrat Coalition on Thursday urged the Commerce Department to step up the pace of its two-month-old investigation of solar technology imports. The development of hundreds of large-scale solar farms are on hold across the United States as the industry and... Read More

May 19, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Congressmen Criticize State Laws Censoring Education on Controversial Issues

WASHINGTON — Teachers and students warned a congressional panel Thursday that recent state laws clamping down on politically volatile instruction... Read More

WASHINGTON — Teachers and students warned a congressional panel Thursday that recent state laws clamping down on politically volatile instruction in schools are likely to backfire by breeding intolerance. Seventeen states passed laws in the past two years intended to protect children from offensive sexual or... Read More

May 19, 2022
by Dan McCue
New York’s State of Mind: BAM! BANG! KRUNCH! KAPOW!

NEW YORK — It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In reliably blue New York State, where more than 53%... Read More

NEW YORK — It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In reliably blue New York State, where more than 53% of registered voters identify as Democrats, a newly drawn district map was supposed to serve as a bulwark against Republicans taking control of Congress in January.... Read More

May 18, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
A Potential Federal Law on Abortion Divides Witnesses Before Congress

WASHINGTON — Abortion supporters and detractors made impassioned pleas before a congressional committee Wednesday while invoking constitutional rights or Biblical... Read More

WASHINGTON — Abortion supporters and detractors made impassioned pleas before a congressional committee Wednesday while invoking constitutional rights or Biblical teachings. The House Judiciary Committee is considering one of several proposals in Congress on whether to enact a federal law to guarantee women’s rights to abortion.... Read More

May 18, 2022
by Dan McCue
US Army Leading by Example on Climate Change Adaptation

WASHINGTON — Though its primary mission remains warfighting, the U.S. Army is playing a leading role in an entirely different... Read More

WASHINGTON — Though its primary mission remains warfighting, the U.S. Army is playing a leading role in an entirely different battle — the nation’s response to the challenges of climate change. The scope of this mission is laid out in the Army’s Climate Change Strategy, which... Read More

News From The Well