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Survey Shows Changes in Congressional Budgets and Benefits Could Lead to Staff Departures in Congress

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Susie Gorden
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WASHINGTON, D.C., January 13, 2014 – A survey of senior managers in Congress indicates that cuts in congressional office budgets and transitioning staff to a new healthcare benefit structure could lead to a significant number of staff departures. Also, nearly four in ten senior staff said they plan to look for a job in the next 12 months, according to research conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF).

House and Senate Chiefs of Staff, House District Directors and Senate State Directors were asked: "Given the past and potential changes in budgets and benefits, how likely do you think the following could contribute to staffers leaving your office?" "Salary freezes" was identified by 82% of the respondents as likely or very likely to lead to staff departures, and 79% identified "Changes to health care benefits" as likely or very likely.

The survey also asked, "How likely is it that you will, by choice, look for a job outside of your current office in the next 12 months?" Those answering likely or very likely totaled 38%. CMF asked an identical question in 2011 of the same staff demographic group in Congress and 30% had similar responses.

Congress has made significant cuts to their own office budgets since 2011, with most offices experiencing a 20% reduction. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act required nearly all staff in Members’ personal offices to transition from the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program to the Washington, D.C., small business healthcare exchange. The CMF survey was conducted November 18 – December 6, 2013. The results are based on 163 responses, or 15% of potential respondents.

Senior managers also reported staff concerns about the transition to healthcare exchanges:

  • 91% reported their staff was "worried about possible changes in health benefits"
  • 87% reported their staff was "worried about the cost of health insurance"
  • 82% reported their staff was "worried about the ability to access local health care providers"

(NOTE: One possible explanation for these numbers is that this survey was conducted while congressional staff members were still receiving initial briefings on the healthcare exchanges.)

In open-ended responses, senior managers expressed frustration with the challenges they face. One manager said, "This is a business. And we keep punishing ourselves by eliminating the tools necessary to run our businesses properly." Another manager noted the impact of the healthcare transition and said, "The elimination of staff's traditional health care has been a complete disaster. If you wanted a legislative branch run by K Street lobbyists and 25 year-old staffers, Mission Accomplished." The open-ended answers did include a few positive comments, noting that morale continued to be strong and that some younger staff were benefitting financially from the healthcare transition. But the overwhelming majority of open-ended responses were negative.

The survey also explored the potential for job burnout among staff. Many offices have reduced staff size either through layoffs or attrition, requiring remaining staff to take on additional responsibilities. When asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement, "Job burnout is a significant problem in my office," 40% of senior managers agreed with that statement. The 2013 survey also posed some questions identical to those posed in an August 2011 survey conducted by CMF and the Society for Human Resource Management. In the 2011 survey, 30% of senior managers agreed with the statement, "I have too much to do to do everything well." In the 2013 survey, in response to the same question, 62% of the respondents agreed with the same statement.

On the positive side, only 26% of managers reported that "morale is low" in their offices. Congressional managers also indicated they are exploring a range of options to retain staff. The strategies managers noted they are likely or very likely to use include:

  • Engaging in "activities to boost office morale (e.g., spot awards, public recognition, time with Senator/Representative, etc.)" (71%);
  • Providing "more professional development opportunities" to staff (60%);
  • Giving "bonuses to targeted staff" (49%);
  • Giving "salary increases to targeted staff" (44%);
  • Adjusting "office goals and priorities to focus on the most critical work" (44%).

Founded in 1977, CMF is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to helping Congress and its Members meet the evolving needs and expectations of an engaged and informed 21st century citizenry. Its work focuses on improving congressional operations and enhancing citizen engagement through research, publications, training, and management services.

 
 
 

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CMF is a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to helping Congress and its Members meet the evolving needs and expectations of an engaged and informed 21st century citizenry.

Our work focuses on improving congressional operations and enhancing citizen engagement through research, publications, training, and management services.

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