“I think they’re scared,” said Rick Shapiro, a former executive director of CMF who consults for the organization and took the lead on producing the study. “They recognize that this is not just ‘cut a little here, nip a little there, if we squeeze a range of areas it will go away.’ ... With 11.4 percent of your budget gone, you really cannot do all that you were doing in 2011 and 2010.”
Across the board, Democrats and Republicans say their biggest challenge is paying staff salaries. Many offices have eliminated positions through attrition, while most agree that raises and bonuses are out of the question.
“I’m [trying] to keep my staff paid on slave wages,” Moran said. “Normally you get what you pay for, and in this case, I’m getting a whole lot more than I’m paying for.”
Underpaying Congressional staffers could lead to problems with retention, especially as young, bright aides look to the private sector for greater compensation — a reality many Members fear.
“I imagine we will have some staff retention problems because they can make more money someplace else, and who wouldn’t want to do that?” Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) said.
“You lose a lot of institutional memory and expertise when you’re inviting such high staff turnover,” Kingston agreed, adding that his office is now relying heavily on the manpower of interns who are paid little or nothing at all.
There are other ways to save money in a tight-budget environment besides freezing staff salaries or eliminating positions, the report emphasizes. It offers 46 ways that Members can save money, such as using email for corresponding with constituents rather than franked mail, moving district offices to lower-cost real estate and seeking commitments from outside vendors not to increase their fees for 2012.
A senior aide for Schakowsky said her office is cutting back on staff travel and retreats, relying more heavily on email and “hoarding offices supplies.”
Many lawmakers maintain that it is not easy to serve constituents without a full staff.
“Our casework is off the charts because of human need,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), adding that caseworkers are needed to speak to each constituent individually and that “a robocall won’t do it.”
“The people who end up getting hurt are constituents,” she said.