The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress approved another 20 recommendations to make Congress work more effectively for the American people on Thursday, July 29. The recommendations seek to improve staff retention, diversity and professionalization, and to increase the accessibility of the House. The Select Committee approved fifteen recommendations unanimously and five with a single dissenter.
To promote staff retention and recruitment, the Select Committee recommended that the House, among other things:
- Establish a formal mentorship program to link junior staff looking for guidance with more senior counterparts;
- Assist with tuition payments for staff enrolled in higher education programs (this would complement the House’s current student loan repayment program);
- Allow Member, committee and leadership offices to use government funds to pay for staff training programs that confer a certification upon successful completion; and
- Create a task force to regularly review staff benefits and make recommendations for changes as appropriate.
To promote accessibility on Capitol Hill, the Select Committee recommended that the House:
- Create a dedicated area to drop off and pick up persons with mobility impairments near an accessible entrance to House properties;
- Provide additional information on the security screenings the public undergo to help acquaint those with mobility impairments to the process;
- Improve doorway accessibility around the Capitol campus; and
- Increase the accessibility of House websites.
The Select Committee also made recommendations to professionalize internships and fellowships on the Hill. For instance, it recommended that the House study the possibility of remote internships on a permanent basis and that the House Chief Administrative Officer should provide information to Member officers about the cost of living for interns to help them decide how much to pay interns.
Five of the recommendations concerning staff benefits occasioned a “nay” vote from Rep. Beth Van Duyne, a Republican from Texas. Drawing from her experience as a public servant, including as mayor of Irving, Texas, she argued that the public and private sectors are categorically different. Public sector salaries and benefits cannot and should not compete with private sector compensation, she said.
“In the public sector, we also need to understand that it’s not our money that we’re spending,” she said. “It’s public dollars and they need to be spent, as much as possible, on public work.”
Rep. Van Duyne also noted the difficult politics of public sector compensation. She recalled an incident from her time as Mayor where the city attempted to compete with private sector compensation for one of their most talented employees, so they gave him a 300% bonus, which led to public outcry.
“Folks who voted for that [bonus] ended up getting voted out of office, and the gentleman who had that position ended up being fired,” she said. “It was not pretty.”
Other Members of the Select Committee stressed the importance of competitive staff compensation by calling it an investment in Congress.
“The Committee recognizes that recruiting and retaining talented staff provides value to the American people,” said Select Committee Chairman Derek Kilmer, a Democrat from Washington state. “Congress is better served by who have the institutional and policy expertise that’s gained through years of service.”
“We’re taking important steps toward supporting our staff who do so much to support us and making Congress work better for the American people,” Kilmer said.
Select Committee Vice Chair William Timmons of South Carolina, a Republican, echoed Kilmer’s view that the recommendations for increased benefits for staffers was an investment. He stressed that the recommendations were a way of promoting fiscal responsibility by the Federal Government.
“I think we need to do more to make sure that we keep the most talented people in these incredibly important roles as we consider spending trillions and trillions and trillions of our taxpayer dollars,” he said.
The amount the government spends on congressional staff compensation is a “rounding error on our budget,” Rep. Timmons said.
The recommendations may be found on the Select Committee’s website.
Summaries of the recommendations may be found here.
Mark Strand is the President of the Congressional Institute and Timothy Lang is the research director. The Sausage Factory blog is a Congressional Institute project dedicated to explaining parliamentary procedure, Congressional politics, and other issues pertaining to the Legislative Branch.