The 116th Congress is off to a rough start. The 35-day long government shutdown furloughed about 800,000 federal workers. Instead of jumping into committee work, setting up new offices or establishing office procedures, congressional staffers waited until their party’s leadership and the White House finally agreed to re-open the government for three weeks. It’s a temporary reprieve, but it gives staff the chance to get fully up and running.

Media publication Roll Call published a special edition for congressional staff, and Congressional Institute President Mark Strand wrote an opinion piece giving advice to staff, partly based on his experience on Capitol Hill. Strand has held nearly every position on the Hill: committee staff director, personal office chief of staff, communications director, legislative director and junior staff.

Here’s some of his wisdom from the piece, which is headlined “The Shutdown Plods On. Here’s What Hill Staffers Can Do:

Working for a member of Congress can be a vicarious existence. Good staffers are an extension of their boss and allow members to reach their constituents more effectively. As government employees, you have a natural empathy for those furloughed and for constituents whose lives have been upended by this. 

… “But I also know that people who work on the Hill take enormous pride in their service to others and achieve a wonderful sense of fulfillment when helping a constituent or passing a law. The more you immerse yourself into the institution of Congress, and the more you learn of its history and procedures, the more effective you are. You can drive change by helping your boss be an advocate for reform. And there is almost no part of Congress that doesn’t need reforming.

There is near-universal agreement that Congress isn’t working as effectively as it could. The Institute has been a key driver of congressional reform concepts, and Strand offered some ideas in the piece. From the oped:

Here are a few common-sense reforms: Make continuing resolutions automatic so no one can use the threat of a government shutdown as political blackmail. Establish biennial budgeting. Extend the fiscal year to Jan. 1. Restore the authorization process that gives Congress its oversight power. Create a more transparent and honest process for letting members direct federal spending.

You can read the full piece here.

Go here to read about the reform concepts listed above.