Last week the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress “Select Committee” held a virtual discussion with outside guests to discuss staffing reforms on Capitol Hill. This was the fourth virtual discussion hosted by the Select Committee in the last month. Casey Burgat, director of the Legislative Affairs program at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, and Kathryn Pearson, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota, joined the Members to share their expertise and research surrounding congressional staff and staffing trends on Capitol Hill.
In October 2019, the American Political Science Association (APSA) Task Force on Congressional Reform released a report with recommendations to improve Congress. The task force included a subcommittee on staff diversity and retention; both Dr. Pearson and Dr. Burgat served on this subcommittee – Dr. Pearson served as the Chair – and issued recommendations specific to congressional staff on Capitol Hill.
“The bottom line is this: until Congress can offer competitive pay and benefits, Congress will continue to lose talented and smart staff. And rather than view them as replaceable, we should create an environment that encourages the best staffers to stay,” said Chair Derek Kilmer (D-WA).
“The recommendations we made last July were the first step towards modernizing our human resources capabilities here in the House,” said Vice Chair Tom Graves (R-GA). “There’s more work to do when it comes to supporting the men and women who help us draft legislation and serve as the first line of communication with our constituents.”
Last June the committee hosted a hearing on congressional staff retention and diversity, and made a number of recommendations to streamline and reorganize human resources on Capitol Hill (those recommendations can be seen here).
The guests discussed staff retention, compensation, recruitment and benefits in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Congress faces a critical challenge in retaining and diversifying its staff,” said Dr. Pearson in her opening remarks. “I don’t need to tell you how important congressional staff are to every aspect of your role, and efforts to improve congressional capacity, and hopefully in turn reduce partisan polarization, ultimately depend on the quality and expertise of staff.”
“Standardizing trainings across offices…we can be really good, as this environment has taught us, about putting these things online for staffers to access at any given time. At CRS, I used to work there, they were very standardized about when this training was going to be…and that’s not how Congress works. Putting these things online and using the technology that we have, especially with young staffers,” said Dr. Burgat when asked about standardizing certain resources in every congressional office.
Since the U.S. Capitol closed to public visitors and guests, and the majority of congressional offices moved to a modified telework operating status, the Select Committee has continued to hold Member-level discussions on committee priorities and ways to continue effectively working ahead of the October 30, 2020 committee report deadline.