Newspaper article Roll Call

The Roll Call Fab 50: An Evolution Begins

Newspaper article Roll Call

The Roll Call Fab 50: An Evolution Begins

Article excerpt

Fab-u-lous (adjective): extraordinary, especially extraordinarily large.

amazingly good; wonderful.

What exactly is it that makes a Capitol Hill staffer so fabulous?

Roll Call has been publishing the Fabulous 50 list of the leading Democratic and Republican staffers for at least 26 years -- possibly longer than some of the people striving to be on it have been alive.

To be honest, I hate it. Maybe that's residual anxiety because when I was a kid, I used to want to make People's Most Intriguing list, and let's face it, that's not likely to ever happen. Or maybe it's just time the Fab 50 gets a newsroom makeover.

The twice-yearly project is compiled by Roll Call editors and reporters, and it details top aides who fit into four criteria. That's "Mastery" for the Hill's policy and procedural experts; "Influence" for individuals who drive the agenda, cut the deals, craft legislation and sway members; "Spin" for Congress' best communicators who help set the tone and frame the debate; and "Access" for staffers who are in the room when decisions are made.

When I returned to Roll Call in January to assume the editor-in- chief role, we had just published the latest list, and we were getting an earful from the Hill community about scarce numbers of female staffers (fewer than 10) on it, and people frustrated by the lack of diversity.

The argument rebutting the complaints was that the top leaders who tend to employ folks showing up on the list don't have diverse staffs. That might be true, but I think it's worth diving a bit deeper.

The categories are fine, but communicators -- the press secretaries and message mavens Roll Call reporters spend most of their days talking with -- have been dominating in recent years as Congress gets less and less done.

As this archived Don Wolfensberger column notes, committee staff have dramatically decreased on the list -- making up less than a quarter of the 2011 tally and a dozen on our January version. Roll Call's first-ever Fab 50, in 1988, was 54 percent committee aides.

That's just one of the things we might want to re-evaluate.

When I took a fresh look at the four criteria, my first question was about creativity. …

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