The following post was co-authored by R Street Vice President of Policy Kevin Kosar.
At the beginning of the 115th Congress, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., took over from Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., as chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. Over the past year, the number of committee staff dropped from 20 to 14, a 30 percent decrease.
Of the 20 staffers employed as of Sept. 1, 2016, only six remain with the committee as of late last month, representing a 70 percent departure rate. Three of the committee’s new staff formerly worked in Sen. Shelby’s personal office and six of the 14 current staffers have been hired since February.
The committee’s jurisdiction includes federal elections, presidential succession and various legislative branch management duties (e.g., the Library of Congress and Architect of the Capitol). It has been tossed political hot potatoes, like bills requiring public release of presidents’ tax filings and the creation of an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the election. Of particular interest is the Senate Rules Committee’s responsibility to:
…make a continuing study of the organization and operation of the Congress of the United States and shall recommend improvements in such organization and operation with a view toward strengthening the Congress, simplifying its operations, improving its relationships with other branches of the United States Government, and enabling it better to meet its responsibilities under the Constitution of the United States.
Why the committee’s staff cohort decreased sharply and why its turnover is so high is unclear, but it is concerning. Rapid staff turnover can drain institutional memory and disrupt operations. Our findings are displayed in the figure below. Readers wishing to understand our methodology for these findings should see below.
Using LegiStorm employment data, we took snapshots of the committee’s staffing directory at three different dates:
- Sept. 1, 2016: Comfortably before knowing about the outcome of the 2016 congressional elections and which party would enjoy control of the Senate and chairmanships of its committees.
- Feb. 1, 2017: Several weeks after the 115th Congress is sworn in and the new chair (Shelby) has taken over. The gap between the new Congress and Feb. 1 allows for Shelby to make staffing changes, in addition to giving staffers a chance to experience the working environment in the new Congress and with the new chair.
- Sept. 27, 2017: Just over one year from Date 1, and more than 10 months since Date 2. This gap grants some time for staffer attrition due to firing, resignation or any other normal career or life circumstances (new job in or outside the chamber, moving from D.C., etc.).
Each committee staffer was assigned a number (e.g., Staffer 1) and his or her continued employment was examined at the aforementioned dates. Hence, we see in the figure above which staff stayed and which did not (e.g., Staffer 1 departed sometime after Feb. 1, 2017.
Image by Eviart