For those looking to develop an advocacy strategy with Congress, one cannot overemphasize the significance of congressional staff. These devoted experts assume a pivotal function in bolstering the efforts of our chosen representatives, from shaping policy to addressing constituents' concerns. 

This comprehensive guide offers insight into the duties and obligations of congressional staff, serving as a rich resource for those eager to expand their knowledge in this realm.

 

Understanding the Structure of Congressional Offices

Before delving into the specific roles and responsibilities of congressional offices, one must grasp their organizational framework. Every member of Congress has a relatively large central office in the broad Capitol complex. Then they each have one or more offices in the district or state. 

Various different models exist for how to staff congressional offices. In the most typical model, the main office is managed by a chief of staff who oversees all operations in both the main office and state-based offices. Then a district or state director reporting to the chief of staff manages the staff operations in the state more directly.

The staff are assigned into broad areas of responsibility:

 

Legislative Staff 

These aides deal directly with legislation and communicating with constituents about legislative proposals. They must learn about what all the relevant legislative proposals will do and figure out how the member of Congress should vote based on the member’s stated priorities. This often involves coalition building and various deal-making.

 

Communications Staff

These folks are responsible for managing the member’s image and craft a strategy to effectively communicate with constituents and the public at large. These teams work with reporters in more traditional media outlets but also handle communications across all the social media platforms.

 

Constituent Outreach Staff

These folks are typically located in the member’s district and state and meet with constituents privately or in public meetings. They are the most direct connection that most members of the public will have to the member of Congress.

 

Administrative Staff

Any congressional office has a variety of administrative functions that need to be performed, including scheduling, office management, office reception duties, financial management, systems administration, human resources and record keeping.

 

Key Positions in a Congressional Office

You are likely to encounter several key positions within this hierarchical structure of a congressional office. These roles include:

 

Main Office Congressional Staff

  1. Chief of Staff: Chiefs of staff serve as the key adviser to the elected official, managing staff and ensuring the smooth operation of day-to-day activities.
  2. Deputy Chief of Staff: These individuals assist the chief of staff in managing the overall operations of the office, often taking on specific responsibilities related to personnel, scheduling and coordination. Especially in the House, this position might not exist or might be combined with one of the other top titles.
  3. Legislative Director: Primarily serving as policy advisors, legislative directors develop and implement legislative strategies. They also manage the remaining legislative team members.
  4. Legislative Assistant: These staffers are responsible for conducting in-depth research, analyzing policy issues, drafting legislation and advising the member of Congress on legislative matters. They need to meet with legislative stakeholders like lobbyists to gather as much information as they can about how legislation will affect relevant people and industries.
  5. Legislative Correspondent: These aides communicate with the public about legislative priorities and respond to constituents who write in with their own opinions about how the member should vote on particular issues. Due to the heavy volume of incoming communications, the emphasis is on writing template letters that need little to no modification before sending out.
  6. Scheduler: Schedulers are responsible for coordinating and managing the daily and long-term schedules of the elected official and arranging meetings, briefings and events. The scheduler is a critical gatekeeper for the office who often knows the member of Congress better than anyone other than the chief of staff.
  7. Administrative Manager/Office Manager: People serving in this role handle all administrative functions like human resources, ordering supplies, managing records, coordinating staff assistants and interns and other miscellaneous tasks. In the House, this role often is combined with the scheduler position.
  8. Counsel: Counsel provides legal expertise and guidance, offering a comprehensive analysis of legislative proposals, overseeing compliance with legal requirements and advising the elected official on legal matters. In the House, this is often combined with another role, such as chief of staff or legislative director.
  9. Press Secretary/Communications Director: These positions help shape the Member's public image and ensure effective communication with the press and the public.  In the House, these roles are often combined into one person, but in the Senate, the communications director takes on a much more strategic-level assessment of how the senator needs to be position himself or herself through all the various communications channels.
  10. Press Assistant: Press assistants support the communications team by facilitating media interactions, drafting press releases and social media posts, managing media inquiries and coordinating public relations efforts.
  11. Speechwriter: Speechwriters craft compelling and articulate speeches, remarks and talking points for the member. In the House, this job is usually spread out among a variety of staffers depending on the context.
  12. Staff Assistant: They provide general administrative support, including answering phones, maintaining office records, driving and providing “body” support for the member.
  13. Systems Administrator: This person oversees all the technology in the office. This job is sometimes outsourced to third-party firms or to part-time staff who float between various different offices as needed.
  14. Financial Administrator: This person handles the bookkeeping and ensures the office does not overrun its budget, which could result in both embarrassment for the member of Congress but also can incur personal liability for the member. Typically one person handles multiple different offices since it’s only a part-time job.
  15. Fellow: These are usually people with specialized knowledge who come in to advise a member on policy matters. For example, they might be members of the military, or doctors or scientists.
  16. Intern: Interns assist with research, administrative tasks and constituent inquiries, gaining valuable experience while supporting the committee's overall functions.

 

District and State-Based Staff

  1. District Director/State Director: This person is responsible for handling all state-based operations for the member, including most constituent-facing functions.
  2. Constituent Services Representative: These staff provide direct assistance to constituents who have needs from the government and must become expert at how to maneuver around the executive branch to get things done. These problems range from trying to secure a lost Social Security payment or getting medical assistance from the Veterans Administration or getting the Department of Transportation to help with bridge funding.
  3. Field Representative: These staff are constituent-facing staff who attend community events and meetings and may organize town hall meetings for the member of Congress to meet constituents. They need to meet with relevant stakeholders at the district level to ensure that the concerns of the constituents are transmitted to the member and that the member’s priorities are communicated to the public.
  4. Office Support: Just like the main office has various administrative needs, so too does do the district and state-based offices. The offices may have one or more people to handle reception duties, office management, scheduling needs, tech support and other administrative support.

 

Congressional Committee Staff

Committee staffs are usually divided by the majority and minority party staffs, with the majority typically getting roughly twice as much money to hire staff as the minority gets. Each side might have the following kinds of staff:

  1. Staff Director: Staff directors play a leadership role in overseeing the committee's operations, managing the staff, coordinating legislative activities and advising committee members.
  2. General Counsel: General counsel serves as the chief legal adviser, offering legal expertise, guiding the committee on legislative matters and ensuring that proposed actions adhere to relevant laws and regulations.
  3. Communications Director: These individuals lead the development and execution of the committee's communication strategy, shaping its public image through effective messaging, media relations and outreach efforts.
  4. Policy Director: These people act like the legislative director does in a member office, coordinating all policy matters for the committee. 
  5. Professional Staff Member: They conduct thorough research, analyze policy issues and provide valuable insights to committee members. They typically have specialized knowledge of some sort.
  6. Counsel: Counsels provide legal expertise, offering analysis and guidance on legislative proposals, regulatory compliance and legal implications. Depending on the committee, certain counsels may specialize in areas like oversight or judicial nominations.
  7. Investigator: An investigator is someone who can perform oversight functions by examining documents and interviewing potential witnesses to get to the bottom of important matters of legislative interest.
  8. Clerk: Clerks handle administrative tasks and support the work of committee members and staff by maintaining records, organizing meetings and facilitating communication.
  9. Staff Assistant: Assistants provide essential administrative support by managing office operations, handling correspondence, organizing meetings and assisting with various tasks to ensure the smooth functioning of the committee.
  10. Intern: Interns assist with research, administrative tasks and constituent inquiries, gaining valuable experience while supporting the committee's overall functions.

Committee staff vary widely in size depending on the importance and complexity of the issues handled by the committee, as well as the volume of legislation that passes through the committee. Given their potential size and complexity, many other staff roles might exist outside the ones listed above.

 

 

 

The Importance of Congressional Staff in Policy Making

The members of Congress' staff play a crucial part in the formulation of policies. They are the unacknowledged champions who facilitate the translation of concepts into implementation, ensuring that the voices of the public reverberate and receive representation within the halls of power.

Members of Congress are often too busy with public appearances and meetings with constituents, colleagues and lobbyists to get into the nitty-gritty details that staff need to master.

 

Influence on Legislation

Staff members, with their extensive knowledge and experience, play a crucial role for members of Congress as they research, develop and shape policy proposals that are in line with the interests of their constituents and the objectives of the legislator.

Their meticulous analysis of data, thorough research and consultation with experts in various fields ensure that proposed legislation is well-informed and effectively addresses the pressing issues confronting the nation.

 

Congressional Staff Directory

In summary, the indispensable contribution of congressional staff members in the legislative process elevates the responsibility of Members of Congress to effectively represent and serve their constituents. Their tasks encompass a diverse scope, including legislation, administration and constituent service.

To gain deeper insights into this subject, you may find LegiStorm’s public affairs software platform to be a valuable resource. It offers a Congressional Staff Directory, a real-time service with contact information, legislative issues covered and rich biographical details. This tool can help you connect with the people who can advance your cause effectively.

 

Originally published December 8, 2023, updated April 5, 2024

 

 

Sources

  1. https://stennis.gov/congressional-programs/congressional-internship-opportunities/
  2. https://employment.senate.gov/outside-fellowships-and-internships/
  3. https://employment.senate.gov/position-descriptions/
  4. https://www.oge.gov/web/oge.nsf/Resources/Analyzing+Potential+Conflicts+of+Interest
  5. https://ethics.house.gov/financial-dislosure/policies-underlying-disclosure

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