When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi released the results of her July survey of Congressional Compensation and Diversity on September 26, it prompted Casey Burgat, senior fellow for the R Street Institute’s Governance Project, to run a comparison with data on HIll staff he uses in his analyses.
Pelosi’s results were based on responses from more than 5,000 respondents to a survey that was sent to 10,000 Hill employees. Burgat uses data obtained from Legistorm, the widely used compiler of official congressional information about salaries, staff backgrounds, employment histories and much, much more, as of March 2019.
For the most part, the Pelosi and Legistorm data are close, but Burgat found some significant differences, especially with regard to issues like salary and gender distributions by position.
That’s not a criticism of either the Pelosi survey nor Burgat’s use of Legistorm data. The two sources are similar but not identical. For example, Burgat explains:
“The Speaker’s report found that 54% of House staff are female (again, generalized from the 51% response rate. My data shows a 50.5%/49.5% gender split, favoring females. This isn’t too far off, and seemingly equitable in terms of gender,” Burgat said.
“But, here’s what the Speaker’s report won’t tell you. The gender split by position is far less equitable. Higher level positions trend male (especially Chiefs of Staff and Legislative Directors), while administrative-related titles are female dominated,” Burgat continued.
“This mirrors what I’ve found in previous congresses, and extends to what policy portfolios are given to males versus females (hint: they are not even close to the same),” he said.
That’s a dramatic difference: Roughly a third of chief of staff positions are held by women, compared to approximately 90 percent of office manager jobs.
On the issue of salaries, there is little surprise in the fact personal staff tend to be paid less than committee staff, but the range from top to bottom in terms of dollars paid may surprise some.
The median salary (i.e. half are paid more, half are paid less) for House chiefs of staff is nearly $154,000, compared to $36,000 for legislative assistants, according to Burgat.
The median House staff salary overall is just under $63,000. The median U.S. household income in 2018 was $63,179, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Burgat also spotlights the division of educational attainment between personal and committee staffs. On the personal staffs, nearly 60 percent of the employees’ highest level of graduation is a bachelor degree, compared to a bit more than a third on the committees.
But on the committees overall, the majority of staff members (28.83 percent) have masters degrees, versus less than 18 percent on the personal staffs. There are also a lot of lawyers on the committee staffs but far fewer on the personal staffs.
Perhaps the most significant data point from the Speaker’s survey is one that likely won’t get much attention in the media, if any at all: “Employees are more satisfied with their benefits (73.6%) than their pay (35.8%), and almost half (44.7%) have considered other employment elsewhere.”
That disparity between satisfaction with benefits compared to pay almost certainly explains in part why close to half of those surveyed by Pelosi are thinking about jobs off the Hill.
Notably missing from the Pelosi data are breakdowns by party identification. She does note, however, in releasing her data that the House Democratic Caucus is moving to adopt a “Rooney Rule” for hiring staff.
The Rooney Rule is essentially a quota system for job interviewing for top positions on National Football League franchises like head coaches and general managers.