Earlier this summer, the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress convened a hearing on staff compensation and benefits. The basic issue — what to do about low pay and high turnover rates — was the central question of the day.
Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) is chairman of the panel, while Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) is vice-chairman. In his opening remarks, Kilmer offered this analysis of the problem:
“Staff are the backbone of this institution. They are dedicated public servants who are here because they want to do meaningful work. They choose careers on the Hill despite the long hours, the lack of job security, and lower pay compared to what they could make in the executive branch and private sector.
“Congress is fortunate to attract such talented and hard-working staff. The challenge is keeping them here. We know that turnover rates for House staff are really high and while there’s churn between Hill offices, the typical staffer leaves the Hill after 4 or 5 years.
“That’s right about the time they’ve picked up a lot of institutional knowledge and policy expertise. As unfortunate as this pattern is, it makes sense. For a lot of staffers, the desire to serve the public is eventually outweighed by the need for a better work/life balance, and the need to make more money to afford housing, support families, and put kids through college.
“This reality puts Congress at a disadvantage compared to the executive branch and the private sector. The bottom line is this: until Congress can offer competitive pay and benefits, Congress will continue to lose talented and smart staff. And rather than view them as replaceable, we should create an environment that encourages the best staffers to stay.” (Emphasis added)
The following video of the hearing is long at more than 90 minutes, but the two featured witnesses — Casey Burgat, Director of the Legislative Affairs at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, and Kathryn Pearson, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota — provide an intelligent, detailed and compelling analysis of what must be done for Congress to address these problems:
HT: Kevin Kosar of the R Street Institute for pointing this video out to yours truly via email.