2, 2019

Chairman Ryan, Ranking Member Beutler and
members of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, thank you for
the opportunity to submit written testimony

in support of increased funds and attention
toward the employees that are essential to executing much of the work done on
Capitol Hill, including the convening of this very hearing: congressional

As a senior governance fellow at the R Street
Institute, I work to identify ways for Congress to reassert itself as the First
Branch of government. Much of my career, including my previous service at the
Congressional Research Service (CRS) and the completion of my Ph.D. in American
Politics at the University of Maryland, has been spent studying and writing on
the importance and impact of congressional aides.

As you all know better than most, your staff
are essential to carrying out the many demands of your elected office. Yet,
despite their acknowledged importance, congressional aides experience a litany
of frustrations that ultimately result in short tenures on Capitol Hill. When your
staffers flee Congress after a few short years, Congress’ capacity to fulfill
vital congressional functions, including lawmaking and effective oversight, is
limited. Furthermore, their quick turnover cedes power to unelected special
interests and the comparatively well-resourced Executive Branch, both of whom
maintain issue area expertise.

To this end, I would like to call your
attention to two principal staffer frustrations and reasons for their departure
or decision not to serve in the first place: inadequate compensation and
problems of diversity in the workplace. Though these are but two of the myriad
problems that require attention from lawmakers, they serve as important touchstones
because they are so regularly identified by staffers themselves as serious
problems in the institution.

First, compensation. It is no secret that
congressional aides are poorly paid given the importance of their work, the
harsh demands of the job and the high cost of living in Washington. But, low
levels of pay become far more apparent when compared with similar jobs within
the private sector, which staffers quickly fill after short stints on the Hill.
Please see Figure 1, which shows the congressional median salaries for several
common positions as well as the private sector equivalent compensation.

Private sector pay gap within congressional staff

For entry-level positions, such as staff assistants
and legislative correspondents, these pay gaps may not look daunting at first
glance. But staff assistants in the private sector can make 20 percent more
than their congressional counterparts, and Correspondents can command over 35
percent more. What’s more, these pay gaps occur for staffers early in their
working lives, when they are more likely to carry student debt. As a result,
young staffers who show up to the Hill dedicated to making a difference are
forced to choose between more lucrative jobs outside of Congress, or scraping
by in an expensive city, delaying savings and bunking up with multiple
roommates just to pay the bills.

And of course, these private sector pay gaps
become more problematic as aides move up the congressional ladder. In more
powerful positions, such as legislative director and counsel, the pay gaps
reach 65 percent and 145 percent, respectively. These salary differences have
proven over and over again to be too appealing to pass up, as capable aides
take their experience and congressional networks to the private sector and
special interest groups. This is a big reason why no congressional position has
a median tenure length of longer than four years, much to the detriment of the
institution (see Figure 2).[1]

Median tenures within congressional staff positions

A second common frustration among staff is a
genuine lack of diversity—including ethnic and gender discrepancies—within top
level positions in personal offices and within committees.

Women and racial minorities see and feel
unspoken glass ceilings on their congressional careers. These limits on
advancement often push staffers to look for jobs in the private sector after
reaching a respectable number of years of congressional experience, or even
worse, deter capable and committed aides from joining the ranks as staffers in
the first place, because they know their advancement rates are far slower than
those of their white male counterparts.

Let’s turn to specifics. Women, for example,
constitute over 50 percent of congressional aides. But hidden behind this
statistic is the reality that top-level jobs and policy portfolios
disproportionately go to men, while women are far more likely to hold
administrative positions like scheduler and staff assistant.[2]

And even when women do attain coveted
committee and personal office positions, they often face a payment gap that constitutes
yet another barrier to equality. Consider Figure 3, which highlights the pay
discrepancies between men and women for staffers serving on each House and
Senate committee. On 31 of the 39 committees for which data was available[3], men made
more than woman on average, with 10 of those committees having gender pay gaps
of over 20 percent.

Gender pay gap by committee

Racial minorities face a similar attainment
gap, particularly in top positions within House personal offices. Please see
Figure 4, which itemizes by race the number of staff serving as Chiefs of
Staff, Legislative Directors or Communications Directors. Clearly, white aides
dominate such positions within both parties, often dwarfing the proportions of
each race in the general population. African-Americans, for example, make up
13.4 percent of the U.S. population[4] but only
6.7 percent of top House staffers and less than 1 percent within the Republican

Figure 4.
Racial minorities within top House positions

I highly encourage the subcommittee to devote
attention and increased funds to these very real staffer frustrations. Doing so
will help Congress attract and retain committed aides within its own hallways rather
than lose them and their talents to better paying private sector jobs. These
improvements will benefit the institution rather than special interests and the
Executive Branch.

Congress should recognize and take steps to
rectify its own shortcomings in regards to gender and racial discrepancies
within its staff ranks. The people’s house should reflect the people.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I
would be happy to answer any questions the subcommittee or its staff may have,
including any follow-ups regarding the data and conclusions drawn in this

[1] Congressional Research Service, Report
R44682, Nov. 9, 2016, available at, https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20161109_R44682_1f7eefde2a58ab7344a6163d3b13b3e48fe35014.pdf

[2] For more detailed statistics, please see Casey
Burgat, “Among House staff, women are well represented. Just not in the senior
positions”, Washington Post, June 20,
2017, available at, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/20/among-house-staff-women-are-well-represented-just-not-in-the-senior-positions/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.016eb7e220ca

[3] For information regarding data sources, as
well as a deeper look at congressional committee staffing, please see Casey
Burgat and Ryan Dukeman, “Who’s on the Hill: Staffing and Human Capital in
Congress’ Legislative Committees”, R Street Institute, March 2019, available at

[4] U.S. Census Bureau, July 2017 Quick Facts,
available at https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045217

Featured Publications