Ever wonder why it takes so long to get things done in Washington, D.C.? Maybe the fact that congressional offices employ mostly inexperienced 24-year-olds has something to do with it.
“High turnover and lack of experience in congressional offices are leaving staffs increasingly without policy and institutional knowledge,” The Washington Times reports.
And do you know what happens when a staffer leaves his high-stress, lousy-paying job? A lobbyists steps in to fill the void.
“Most Senate staffers have worked in the Capitol for less than three years. For most, it is their first job ever. In House offices, one-third of staffers are in their first year, while only 1 in 3 has worked there for five years or more,” writes Luke Rosiak for the Times.
Aides who work on committees that are more influential tend to have longer resumes (maybe a whole four years of experience!).
But why would D.C. set up a system where legislative and political expertise is rewarded with lousy pay and few prospects for upward mobility?
That’s a good question.
“While senators make $174,000, staff assistants and legislative correspondents -- by far the most common positions in the Senate -- have median pay of $30,000 and $35,000, respectively, significantly less than Senate janitors and a fairly low salary for college graduates in a city as expensive as Washington,” writes Rosiak.
Moreover, Congressional staff salaries have barely (if at all) risen with inflation over the past decade.
For instance, according to the Times, the average legislative counsel in the House made $56,000 last year, which is actually less than in 2007. At the same time, the salary of parking-lot attendants in the House went from $26,000 to $49,000 in the past decade while pay for staff assistants increased from $26,000 to $30,000.
“It means that young workers have proximity to enormous power while surviving on a meager budget -- dual forces that come together to push congressional staffers through the ‘revolving door’ to highly paid K Street lobbyists,” the Times reports
“In the revolving door, former congressional staff and members use their personal connections and insider knowledge to attempt to pull the levers of power on behalf of a paying client. A former congressional staffer is among the most valuable assets a company desiring legislative change can buy,” the report adds.
In fact, D.C. staffers will often engage lobbyists even while working for Congress. And why not? We’re talking about someone with maybe one or three years of experience being approached by someone with decades of finely tuned technical knowledge. It's not surprising that the former would turn to the latter for "advice."
“Who are congressional staff going to turn to?” asked Daniel Schuman, who studies policy at the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.
“The experienced staff aren’t there. But lobbyists and think tanks are beating down the door: ‘Here’s the legislation, here are the research materials and I’ve got the co-sponsors lined up,’” he adds.