Washington (October 16) – Nearly eighty percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress does its job. Much of the blame can be attributed to its failure to substantively address many of the policy issues with which the public is concerned. And although some of this can perhaps be attributed to partisan gridlock and short congressional calendars, a substantial reason is simply that Congress does not have the appropriate number of available, dedicated policy staff.

In a new policy paper, R Street research associate, Anthony Marcum; governance project fellow, Casey Burgat; and director of commercial freedom policy and senior fellow, C. Jarrett Dieterle argue that a main factor of lacking congressional capacity is a dearth of available, dedicated policy staff. This is because in recent decades, Congress has cut vital committee staff and has minimized important research wings, like the Congressional Research Service. Compounding this problem is pressure for current staff to focus on other personal office and committee needs, such as communications and constituent services. In addition to these departures from policy work, low pay, unpleasant work environments and a lack of professional development opportunities mean that younger staffers rarely stay on the Hill for long.

According to the authors, one immediate solution is to promote the hiring and retention of young lawyers. Such an effort offers several benefits, including access to “in house” legal analysts and legislative drafters in personal offices and committees, substantive experience in a number of policy fields and excellent research and writing skills.

The authors explain, “in an era of 2,000-page bills and a colossal Code of Federal Regulations, legislation is more complex than ever. As such, trained lawyers add substantial value to the legislative process by offering the practical skills provided by their legal training.”