Heard on the Hill

In Defense of Congress

It’s officially recess. Which means the hustle and bustle of Congressional life has now slowed to a blissfully non-productive crawl.

Or as one Quora commenter sees it: business as usual.

The purported ex-Hill staffer threw the entire legislative body under the bus on the members-only discussion forum, sharing a rather damning account of life inside a House Republican’s office.

  • When people call to complain, the staff assistant patiently listens and then says "OK, we'll pass that on to the Congressman." Then, they hang up the phone and go back to their business.
  • People of all stripes stop by to share their concerns (We are here from X group and we think the Congressman should do Y about issue Z). The [legislative assistant] listens patiently and once they leave they throw away all the materials the group gave them and they go back to their business.
  • Every morning the interns go to the fax machine and there are over 200 faxes sitting there. The intern isn't paid and doesn't really care so he just throws them in a recycle bin never to be looked at again.
  • When Congress isn't in session the staff still have to come in to work but there isn't much to do. So everyone comes in in jeans and checks Facebook all day. Some offices throw parties with kegs and beer pong. [Or swig bourbon all day.]

Jennifer Pattee, who worked in California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer’s San Francisco office during the late '90s, told HOH those years, though arduous, proved absolutely invaluable.

“I guess you could say it was the ultimate education in failure analysis. We learned a lot about where and how laws failed — and also, sometimes, how they succeeded,” she said of the crash-course in “work ethics, dedication and follow-through.”

Pattee spun war stories about butting heads with unresponsive federal agencies, doing battle with career bureaucrats and navigating countless administrative hurdles every step of the way.

Did they consciously duck out of certain fights? Absolutely.

But Pattee maintains staff was always in the little guy’s corner.

“We may not have paid much attention to the letters, faxes and phone calls coming in about general issues, protests, and complaints. But anyone who contacted us with a specific issue with a specific agency, they were heard,” she asserted. “So even though faxes poured in all day long and got thrown away on the spot, if a constituent wrote us a letter and filled out a form allowing us to intervene on their behalf, we absolutely did that. Every single time.”

Her biggest gripe?

Pattee claims that during the year she spent toiling in the San Francisco office she never stood face-to-face with Boxer. “I did see her back once,” she quipped.