How Many Hill Staff Are There?

An interesting question, which depends on how you define the term “Hill Staff.” If you are counting everyone who works for Congress, that means, Cap Police, the Library of Congress, janitors and cafeteria workers…’re looking at about 24,000 people. But if you narrow it down to just the people who staff personal offices and congressional committees, then we’re talking around 15,000 people.

I came to this figure by reading multiple reports and then checking with some Hill experts like Daniel Schuman at the Sunlight Foundation.

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New York Times Reports on Study of Press Secretaries

Most are not very intimate advisers. Most were once reporters. And most are men.

Most are not very intimate advisers. Most were once reporters. And most are men.

This New York Times story from the late 80’s discusses a study on Senate Press Secretaries by Stephen Hess, a scholar at the Brookings Institute. Some interesting findings:

  • In 1960, only 31 Senate offices had a Press Secretary. By 1984, at least 98 offices had a Press Secretary
  • The average salary in 1985 for a Senate Press Secretary was $44,069, with women paid, on average, about $7600 less  each year for the same work.
  • Finally, only 19 women held the position.

Mr. Hess had some explanations for the low numbers of women. According to the New York Times:

One former high-level Senate aide who often advises senators on choosing press secretaries told the researcher: “Being a press secretary entails traveling with the senator, and some senators don’t want to travel with a woman. It causes too many rumors.”

A woman who is now a reporter and previously served as a press secretary to a senator added that her former boss “felt a press secretary should go drinking with the editors, should be ‘one of the boys.'”

I found this press clip while digging through the Senate archives. To read the original, click here.

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Congresswoman Calls for Increased Pay: Congressional Staff Cannot Afford High Quality Meals

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz seconds the nomination of Sen. Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver Colorado

Wow! I’ve heard numerous staffers complain to me about the poor pay for congressional staff. One House Democratic Legislative Correspondent told me that after he paid all his bills every month, he was left with $200 to pay for food and other needs.

Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is now calling for increased pay for congressional staff so that Congress can continue to recruit high quality workers. Don’t think that I’ve ever heard an elected Member mention this problem before.

You can watch the video here.

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Famous Staff: Larry L. King, Author of “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”

They play Man Friday to Congressman--and their struggles with their bosses' vanity, pretty receptionists, and unimportant bureaucrats are often more comic than glamourous.

They play Man Friday to Congressman–and their struggles with their bosses’ vanity, pretty receptionists, and unimportant bureaucrats are often more comic than glamourous.

Several staff have gone onto careers in publishing. Perhaps the least known (for his work on the Hill) but most remembered for his literary work is Larry L. King. After leaving his job as a young reporter, King spent almost a decade in the House, many of those years as an Administrative Assistant or A.A.–what is now called a Chief of Staff.

In 1965, King quit the Hill and began writing plays, magazine pieces and books, including this article he wrote for Harper’s about his time on the Hill. I’ve saved a copy of it on document cloud and you can read it by clicking here.

When he died in December 2012, the New York Times wrote:

Mr. King had a big personality suffused with humor, characteristics evident in his work. Critics often noted his affinity for the wordplay, wry attitude and joy in the existence of scalawags that were hallmarks of Mark Twain. Nor was he, like Twain, loath to cast aspersions on the dull, the self-righteous and the oafish.

In the late 70’s, King wrote an article for Playboy about the closing of the Chicken Ranch in La Grange, Texas. That account led to his most famous work–a book and a play called “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

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Congressional Staff Bonuses Are Reporter Catnip

"Bonus" image


Another day, another reporter uncovers Washington scandal: staffers get … bonuses! Amazing. Whoda’ thunk?

I’ve covered this non-scandal scandal involving staff salaries in the past, once a couple years ago for Politics Daily, and just a week ago here at Life  On The Hill News. In short, staff are dramatically underpaid compared to employees with similar jobs in the DC area. Bonuses are a way to reward staff when a Member’s office has some money left, after all the year’s expenses have been paid. The other option would be for the Chief of Staff to spend the money on other office needs, or give it back to the Treasury.

Why is it “scandal” when government employees are rewarded for hard work?

In this case, a reporter with the Cleveland Plain Dealer is trying to make some hay over staff who were given bonuses after their bosses retired, shoving them out on the street, scrambling to find jobs. When staff realize the boss is heading out the door, they immediately have to start looking for a new job. These bonuses are designed to keep staff around to help close the office down, instead of jumping ship to the next job, leaving the office vacant.

Look, there’s plenty of bad behavior in Washington, and I’m totally fine with people pointing it out. But when it ain’t there, it just ain’t there.

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When the Senate Made Itself Live By Its Own Employment Laws

Hill Resolution on Equal Rights

This copy of a Senate resolution that I found in the Senate Archives is not in good shape. When I tried to copy it, the writing on the backside bled into the front. So it looks smeared. But there are a couple interesting points:

1. Congress exempted itself from employment laws, such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

2. To guard against employment discrimination, the Senate passed a resolution on 1973 that basically made the institution compliant with employment protections.

In 1995, the New Gingrich led Congress passed the Contract with America, part of which required Congress to abide by the rules that it had passed. Still, most staff will tell you that you have few employments protections as a congressional employee. It’s just a different type of environment.

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What’s the Big Deal with Staff Bonuses?

Hill Bonuses at CNN

CNN has this incredibly odd story up, with a gotcha they don’t got. Here’s what they found: in the months leading up to the fiscal cliff and sharp budgets cuts, about a quarter of Representatives gave their staff bonuses. The subtext is that Members are spending wildly while cutting federal agencies.

Sorry, but it just ain’t so. Here’s what’s really going on.

House Republicans continue to cut congressional budgets, in some cases, forcing offices to let people go. A Chief of Staff now has about 15% less to run their office than a couple years back. That person can do whatever they want with the money, which is around $1.5 million. They can hire as many or as few staff as they want, and pay them as little or as much as they want. But with that money, the COS must also fund travel, constituent mailers, and everything else that it takes to run a congressional office.

If at the end of they year, you’re still in the black, some offices give bonuses. Why would they do that? To reward behavior for staff who are, as I wrote two years ago for Politics Daily, dramatically underpaid. Here’s what I wrote:

An analysis released in December by the Sunlight Foundation found that House staff are paid less than employees doing similar work in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. For instance, a House press secretary earns around $61,628. A similar job in the private sector pays approximately $91,690. Furthermore, when you adjust for inflation, personal staff in the House have not had a salary increase in almost two decades. In some cases, salaries have actually decreased.

So why the story at CNN? I think it’s because it sounds cute, at first glance. You write a story that shows Congress is filled with hypocrites who are rewarding overpaid staff while also cutting federal spending. Unfortunately for the reporter, the truth is much different.

If you’d like to read the Sunlight Foundation’s study on congressional pay, click here.

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What’s Wrong With Earmarks?

Picture of Harvard Blog

I blog on occasion for the Safra Ethics Center. I wrote this piece a couple months back, examining a research paper that looked at the success of lobbyists in acquiring earmarks for clients. There were some problems with the paper. I don’t think that the professors completely understand how the Appropriations Committee operates. Also, I point out that the paper suffers from a framing problem–namely, it implies that earmarks are wrong, without proving that they actually are.

This is not just a problem for the authors, but also for pundits in Washington.

Read more: What Value Lobbyists?

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Senator Calls Police About Staff

Senator Tosses Late Working Staff

Kind of hard to tell where the theater ends, and the story begins. This story from the Washington Post in 1954 reports that, after warning his staff multiple times to not work past 9 pm, Senator Paul H. Douglas (D-IL) called the Capitol Police to have them forcibly removed. What I find especially interesting is the subtext: dedicated staff, willing to work into the wee hours for their boss.

So the culture was not that terribly different 50 years ago.

Click here to read the original document: Senator Tosses Late-Working Staff

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Staffers Venture Outside Washington To Learn About the Military



A couple dozen staffers took a trip to Ft. Polk in Louisiana to learn a little bit about the military and to train on some of the equipment.

“They were highly motivated,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob Sprawl, operations NCO for 1st MEB. “The majority performed exceptionally well under adverse conditions.”

Read the rest of the story: Congressional staffers ‘train’ at Fort Polk

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