The Role of Congressional Staff
Members of Congress must make important decisions every day on a broad range of complex issues. In fact, Members of Congress face literally thousands of legislative proposals every year, and without a staff of informed individuals to help them navigate the legislative waters, Congress would very quickly come to a standstill. In addition to considering and voting on legislation, Members of Congress also spend countless hours meeting with constituents, government affairs professionals and attending events at home and abroad.
Given everything elected officials must juggle in their schedules, it’s easy to see why they rely so heavily on their staffs to help them make informed decisions and to stay connected with the people they represent back home. Beyond researching and recommending advantageous policies, Congressional staff members maintain legislators’ schedules, get them to appointments and meetings, and handle constituent requests. Every Member of Congress has an office in Washington, D.C., and at least one home office. Some have more, depending on the size of the state or district they represent.
Some Members of Congress also have access to committee staffs, which provide them with additional resources to carry out their busy schedules.To keep a Member of Congress going, every staff member must fulfill his or her responsibilities with tremendous professionalism, dedication, and attention to detail. Below is an overview of the particular roles and responsibilities of the individuals who make up a typical Congressional staff.
The Washington offices typically handle all policy-related issues. The office is usually run by a
Chief of Staff or
Administrative Assistant, who works directly with the Member of Congress and has overall responsibility for managing the office and staff, evaluating the political outcomes of legislative proposals and constituent requests.
In many offices a single
Legislative Director is responsible for monitoring legislative schedules and making recommendations on particular issues. Sometimes, however, that task is given to several
Legislative Assistants, each of whom is assigned particular issues to cover, such as taxes, small business, health care, environmental issues, veterans’ affairs, transportation, and so on. Because Legislative Assistants serve as the primary source of information on a given issue, they are often very influential in determining the legislator’s position.
Press Secretary or Communications Director is responsible for cultivating and maintaining relationships with the media on behalf of the Member of Congress. He or she publicizes the legislator’s stance on specific issues and involvement in key events, and works to increase beneficial coverage in the media.
Appointment Secretary or
Scheduler allocates and prioritizes the limited time each Member of Congress must divide among his or her many responsibilities. Beyond simply making appointments and arranging travel, this staff member must be familiar with the legislator’s priorities, the legislative calendar, anticipated votes on legislative proposals, and constituent requests, as well as numerous events back in the legislator’s home state or district in order to make appropriate decisions and recommendations regarding the overall schedule.
Committee and Subcommittee Offices
Each committee and subcommittee has two professional staffs—one staff that serves the majority party and another that serves the minority party. These staffs are under the direction of the chair (ranking majority member) and ranking minority member of the committee. The makeup of committee and subcommittee staffs largely mirrors that of legislators’ personal Washington offices, except for one major difference: Committee staff members have considerably narrower responsibilities, so their area of expertise is much more focused than that of staffs belonging to individual Members of Congress. For example, a Legislative Assistant on the staff of a committee with responsibility for small business would be likely to focus on a particular area of small business issues and taxes, while a Legislative Assistant in a legislator’s personal office would be responsible for all areas that pertain to small business legislative policy, as well as several other issues.
Home (or District) Offices
Home office staffs serve two primary goals. First, they are responsible for organizing and coordinating the appearances and appointments for the Member of Congress while he or she is visiting the state or district. Second, many home office staff members serve as
Caseworkers. Caseworkers help resolve constituents’ problems related to federal government programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, or the Bureau of Veteran’s Affairs. Casework is a high priority in home offices because it is often the most publicly visible service that a Member of Congress provides to his or her constituents.
Just as Members of Congress rely on the members of their staff to provide them with vital information about issues, legislation, and events, our government affairs team relies on Congressional staff members to help them cultivate positive working relationships with elected officials and stay informed about how crucial issues are progressing. Because of the key role Washington and home office staff members play, our government affairs efforts focus on educating not just Members of Congress about the issues our company faces, but also those staff members who are involved in the decision-making process.