Congressional Staffers Aren't Underpaid

In some corners of elite opinion, working on Capitol Hill means one is laboring in the political equivalent of Wal–Mart. Hill workers have their pity while toiling in a crowded ideology shop for chump change.

Yet, just like Wal–Mart, each time an election or retirement causes a new congressional store to open, the line of applicants typically extends around the corner.

How do you explain it? Don’t these serfs know they’re being exploited?

You expect this reasoning in the Washington Post, but surprisingly enough, this expose was in the Washington Times. The premise is that Capitol Hill staffers are grossly underpaid and, as a result, the nation is being run by penniless Facebook addicts who are subject to an employment revolving door.

The pitiful few newbies that do manage to cling to their position are utterly at the mercy of rapacious lobbyists up to no good.

I am indebted to the author of the story, Luke Rosiak, for sharing his employee turnover numbers with me for comparison purposes. Frankly, if the situation had been reversed, I don’t know that I would have been so gracious. Still, Rosiak’s generosity does not prevent me from disagreeing with his conclusions.

He begins by painting a picture of ignorant amateurs: “High turnover and lack of experience in congressional offices are leaving staffs increasingly without policy and institutional knowledge … leaving a vacuum that is usually filled by lobbyists.”

As a result: “When Americans wonder why Congress can't seem to get anything done, this could be a clue.”

Once we get past the irony that after finally identifying jobs where federal salaries are equal to or less than the private sector the Washington Times sees fit to complain, a comparison shows the analysis is flawed.

First a reality check: although located in august structures and surrounded by the echoes of history, congressional offices are basically 535 mom and pop operations with the elected official serving the role of mom or pop, as the case may be. None of these offices are governed by the rules and regulations that pamper civil service employees. Officeholders are political entrepreneurs building a brand on the taxpayer dime.

Some congressional offices are well-run organizations that rival an Apple Genius Bar for motivation and expertise. Others limp along like a poorly managed dollar store where are all the toys are from China and contain extra lead.

But regardless of how the office is managed, the jobs are an example of an efficiently functioning employment marketplace. If the salaries for congressional office jobs were too low, there would not be enough qualified applicants to fill the positions. It would be necessary to follow in the footsteps of agribusiness and hire illegal aliens. Yet that’s not happening.