March 30, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Vacancy: Congressional Offices That Lose Members Still Function

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
The office of Rep. Donald Payne, who died earlier this year, is being run by his staff under the supervision of the Clerk of the House. The office’s main priority now is constituent services.

So all operations become focused on constituent services and handling casework requests. In this way, district offices experience fewer changes in the transition from political to nonpartisan office: They were already making casework and constituent services their top priority.

But in Washington, D.C., where offices prioritize legislative advocacy and have day-to-day activities that typically revolve around a Members Congressional schedule and political agenda, the shift requires an adjustment.

I think that was the hardest part, not being able to advocate for any particular issue once you didnt have a Member, said one staffer whose boss resigned in the middle of the legislative session. It was frustrating for many people at first.

Everyone becomes part staff assistant, pitching in on fielding constituent calls, responding to casework requests and undertaking administrative responsibilities. 

There are always gaps to fill, especially when staffers leave to take positions with other organizations or Capitol Hill offices.

Staffs also have to oversee the offices shutdown settling outstanding payments and contracts, finalizing inventory and, perhaps the most time-consuming task, archiving years and years of paperwork.

He was kind of a hoarder, Matthew Mazonkey said with a laugh of his former boss, the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who died while in office after nearly 40 years on Capitol Hill. Its no exaggeration it took three full months to sort through everything.

Changing Job Duties

The handful of staffers interviewed by Roll Call who have lived through the experience of working for a Member-less office all expressed initial feelings of disorientation following the Clerks takeover.

I do think it was shocking and surprising, said Mazonkey, who now works for Murthas successor (and former staffer) Rep. Mark Critz (D). One day youre working for a Member of Congress and the next day youre suddenly told to stop doing what youve been doing for your entire career and focus on something else.

But as one staffer who worked for a Member who resigned midway through the last Congress put it, House offices come in more flavors than at Baskin-Robbins.

So while there are similarities among offices in terms of their primary duties during a lawmakers absence, the pressures differ from suite to suite.

One staffer said his bosss resignation came during appropriations season, forcing the team to struggle to find a way to represent constituents concerns for program funding when they had no lawmaker to push those concerns on the House floor.

Another staffer described a scenario in which everyone struggled to fill in the workload gaps as colleagues left in a mass exodus for other jobs.

Perhaps unique among the staffs that have dealt with Member-less offices over the past years is that of Giffords. For a year, her staff ran her Washington office with an expectation that she could return.

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