(Adds comment from Kilmer in sixth and seventh paragraphs.)
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A new analysis of staff turnover on Capitol Hill reinforces the concerns voiced by congressional leaders about the loss of top talent to K Street and beyond.
House staffers left their jobs last year at the highest rate since at least 2001, according to Legistorm, which tracks staff and member data and salaries. House staff exits have gradually increased since 2009, according to the analysis, but they jumped 55% compared with 2020 in a year that included the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and Covid-19 complications.
This comes as lawmakers continue to grapple with how to stem the brain drain.
This month’s omnibus spending bill (Public Law 117-103) boosted by 21% the amount of funding for House members’ representational allowances, or MRAs, which lawmakers use to pay staffers. A push among staffers for unions also found support among at least 165 lawmakers, who signed on to a resolution (H. Res. 915) that would formally allow staffers to organize.
The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, a temporary panel created in 2019 to develop recommendations to improve the functioning of Congress, advocated for the MRA increase and recommended several other changes to boost staffer retention. They include setting up a voluntary pay band system with a salary average and floor for each position, expanding health insurance for staff, moving staffer pay from monthly to semi-monthly, and regularly surveying staff on improving pay and benefits.
“The data on staff turnover highlights why the Modernization Committee has made the recruitment, retention and diversity of staff such a priority,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), the panel’s chair. “The ability of Congress to solve big problems for the American people is eroded if it can’t retain talented staff.”
In hearings and listening sessions with staff, Kilmer said members in both parties have supported pay increases and better professional development opportunities in an effort to keep them from leaving. “We’re going to keep pushing on that front,” he said.
Legistorm weights the data so a departing higher-level staffer with a larger salary counts more than a lower-level staffer. Data on Senate staffers has yet to be released for all of 2021.
The analysis also found Democrats had a higher rate of turnover than Republicans, a discrepancy that could be partly due to President Joe Biden’s administration staffing up and more Democratic members announcing they won’t seek another term this fall.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters recently that staffers have left both for the private sector and the executive branch because congressional salaries aren’t as competitive. While the MRA increase was a good start, he said, more needs to be done.
“I’m for having a minimum,” Hoyer said. “But it’s sort of like the union thing. Its complicated. You’ve got 435 different small businesses essentially. So it’s not very easy just to say, ‘We’ll do it this way.’”
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at email@example.com