A series of comments appeared beneath the photo, including one attributed to Hershiser’s account, that stated: “We volunteered (AKA where’s my raise?!).” The banter also includes a comment attributed to Johnson’s account that read: “I can’t move my arms.”
Each House office sets its own personnel policies, including how many vacation days staff can take and when they can use them. But aside from rules limiting outside income for senior staff and guidance on when aides may volunteer or work for campaigns, neither the House nor Senate regulates how aides may use their own vacation time.
“What constitutes a staff member’s ‘own time’ is determined by the personnel policies that are in place in the employing office,” the House Ethics Manual states. “Time that is available to a staff member, under those policies, to engage in personal or other outside activities may instead be used to do campaign work, if the individual so chooses. This free time may include, for example, a lunch period, time after the end of the business day, and annual leave.”
Although the House manual encourages aides to maintain time records, there is no unified format for Congressional offices to do so.
“There is still more latitude than many people are led to believe in how House offices manage their own personnel,” noted National Taxpayers Union spokesman Pete Sepp.
While Members are prohibited from using their staffs for their personal benefit — former Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio) was convicted in 2002 on public corruption charges that included forcing his aides to work on his Ohio farm while on the Congressional payroll — a 1995 federal appeals court ruled that some otherwise-personal tasks, such as picking up laundry, might qualify as official business.
“One can only hope that the employees did it out of the kindness and respect for their boss,” Sepp said, referring to Reichert’s aides. “There doesn’t seem to be much written in any of the personnel policies about whether this is an obligation.”
But Sepp added that the blending of official duties with personal favors can potentially put aides in an uncomfortable position: “From a staffer’s standpoint, what do you do if you get asked such a favor?”
An aide who answered the phone at the House Ethics Committee on Monday said no individuals were available to speak to the media, but Roll Call’s archives include numerous examples, from Senate aides who serve as de facto drivers for lawmakers to House aides who take regular breaks to walk the office dog.
During the 2008 federal trial of then-Sen. Ted Stevens, prosecutors revealed that the Alaska Republican used his aides for personal tasks including balancing his checkbook, withdrawing cash for his spouse and paying bills. The Senate Ethics Committee did not publicly review those charges before Stevens was defeated in the 2008 general election.
Brad Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation, noted the group encourages Members’ offices to maintain detailed time records.
“It’s always good to document time,” said Fitch, who said that the issue often arises when a staffer splits time between the office and campaign duties.
“There’s just a general perception that you want to convey that you are complying with both the letter and the spirit of the law,” Fitch said.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.