Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico

Congressional Staff: Duties and Functions of Selected Positions *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico

Congressional Staff: Duties and Functions of Selected Positions *

Article excerpt


The United States Congress conducts several types of activities for which it employs staff. [1] Congressional employees are retained to perform public duties that include assisting Members in official responsibilities in personal, committee, leadership, or administrative office settings [2]. Organized to support Members of Congress in their various duties and functions in Washington, DC, and constituency offices around the United States, staff are involved in virtually all elements of the work of Congress.[3]

Individuals in congressional staff positions may come from a wide range of training or professional backgrounds. These might include the law, business, medicine, political campaigns, engineering, the social sciences, or fine arts. Nevertheless, congressional staff are seen by some as a professional cohort. Congressional career tracks generally mirror common stages of other professional careers, but with adaptations to the congressional workplace.

These adaptations include relatively short career ladders on which staff may acquire substantial responsibilities in a relatively short period of time, and close support of a Member's legislative and representational responsibilities. [4]

This report focuses on positions in House and Senate personal offices, [5] and provides sample position descriptions for 14 positions with similar job titles in each chamber.[6] Identifying congressional staff duties and job descriptions is complicated by the highly decentralized nature of congressional employment practices. The House of Representatives is composed of as many as 500 entities that set job criteria and employ staff; [7] in the Senate, there are about 135 such entities.[8] Congressional staff may work in a Member, committee, or leadership office; in positions under the authority of chamber officers; [9] or in chamber support entities with specialized duties.[10] Additional challenges of the congressional personnel environment may include different approaches to some practices common in many professional environments. Some congressional employing entities may not use formal position descriptions; others may not implement formal personnel practices and guidelines, or clearly establish lines of authority for personnel issues in their offices. In offices where personnel practices and guidelines are developed, practices could vary from office to office.

All decisions regarding activities and operations in a Member's office are within the discretion of the Member, subject to chamber rules [11] and relevant statute.[12] As with all congressional entities with employing authority, individual Members of Congress have wide discretion in setting many workplace policies, including procedures for establishing the duties and functions of staff positions. Staffing decisions may be determined by the priorities and goals of a congressional office, and the preferences and needs of a Member's constituents.

Sources of Position Descriptions

In 2006, two salary and employment surveys, the 2006 House Compensation Study: Guide for the 110th Congress (House study), and the 2006 U.S. Senate Employment, Compensation, Hiring and Benefits Study (Senate study), were conducted for the House and Senate, respectively [13] The studies focused on staff in the personal offices in each chamber, and provided data on salary, work experience, and position duties and functions. Data in the surveys were organized by position titles. Of 18 positions in the House study and 25 positions in the Senate study, there are 14 positions that have roughly congruent position titles and descriptions in both chambers. Those positions are summarized in Table 1.

Summaries of those positions' functions and duties as proffered by the House and Senate studies' administrators [15] are provided below. This material should be interpreted with care. Using data from the House and Senate studies raises concerns for several reasons related to data collection, and the potential consequences of organizing data by position title. …

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