A bipartisan group of experts on congressional reform told Congress on Nov. 20 that it must enlarge its staff significantly and pay them more.
Congress has to make fully informed judgments on proposals put forth by the executive branch and lobbyists, the Task Force Project on Congressional Reform (TFPCR) explained in a report. But Congress won’t be able to do that if its staff is much smaller and less experienced than the executive branch’s or lobbyists’ staff.
“Congress lacks the resources and knowledge to stand on an equal footing either with the executive branch, or with the tens of thousands of lobbyists employed in Washington (many of whom are former staffers now earning multiples of their Capitol Hill pay),” TFPCR stated.
The current imbalance between Congress and the executive branch is most vividly seen in a comparison of their respective sizes.
Congress has a total of approximately 20,000 employees. That includes staff working for individual senators and representatives, for committees, and for congressional support agencies. The executive branch has about 2.1 million full-time, permanent employees—or 4 million if you include the military.
In 2018, Congress spent about $3 billion on all of its operations, the report stated. The executive branch spent more than $290 billion in 2018 on its workers’ pay and benefits.
The executive branch issues approximately 11 new regulations for every new law passed by Congress.
Even with President Donald Trump’s massive cuts in federal regulations, the Federal Register published more than 68,000 pages of new regulations in 2018 (President Barack Obama’s administration published about 95,000 in his final year in office).
“Congress today is overwhelmed,” TFPCR stated. That’s due to “decades of self-imposed disinvestment in expertise and staffing.”
“Congress today employs fewer staff aides than it did in the 1980s and early 1990s. Declines in staffing have been largest on committee staffs and at support agencies such as the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’s principal repositories of policy expertise,” the report stated.
“Given the complexity and size of the national government—and the informational resources held by the executive branch and interest groups—members of Congress simply require [more] extensive staff support in order to perform their jobs.”
Caps on Staffers for Members of Congress
The report recommended an increase in the maximum number of staffers each Congress member is allowed to hire. Under current law, each representative can hire up to 18 staffers, while each senator can hire 30 or more, depending on the size of his or her state.
The report also recommended that the budget available for their staffers’ compensation be increased. The salary for individual staffers is currently capped at $174,000, the same annual salary of senators and representatives. The report recommended that members “should be allowed to pay more if they feel it is necessary to attract top talent.”
Strengthening Congressional Committees
The report also strongly recommended that congressional committees have bigger, better-paid staff “who would support committees in informed lawmaking and robust oversight. More resources should reduce staff turnover, allowing committees to benefit from institutional memory.”
House members were also encouraged by the report to consider bipartisan hiring of committee staff, as is presently done in some instances by the Senate.
“Regardless of how the House wishes to expand staff capacity, putting more resources into committees has historically been the most effective way to increase institutional strength, since committees are the natural place for expertise and oversight,” the report stated.
Other recommendations in the report included expanding staffing for congressional caucuses, which are informal associations of members with similar interests and concerns, such as the House Freedom Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.
“Congress is decades overdue to address its capacity and operational shortcomings. Voters want reform,” Kevin Kosar, TFPCR co-host and vice president of the R Street Institute, told The Epoch Times on Nov. 20.
“Failing to act all but guarantees continued deep public dissatisfaction with our first branch of government, and invites retribution on election day,” said Kosar.
The TFPCR was formed by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to work with the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, which was formed in January by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and approved by the House of Representatives on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 418–12.
The TFPCR is co-hosted by the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning think tank, and the R Street Institute, a moderately right-leaning foundation.
The APSA was also heavily involved in the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the most recent major reform of Congress.