Aug. 22, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Hill Climbers: A Day in the Life of a House Staffer

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

12:30
A meeting with the Congresswoman runs over. 

Austin heads to the “Members only” elevator, which staffers take when Members aren’t on it, and to lunch at Cannon Carryout Café. 

“I don’t see anything I like,” Austin says. At this hour, the pickings can get slim. So she heads over to Longworth Café.

Through Rayburn Hall, which connects Cannon to the Longworth House Office Building, she passes other Members, staffers and some visitors. 

Austin calls Longworth Café “the zoo.” Floods of staffers are grabbing wrapped sandwiches and chips and ordering hot food all at the same time. The lines are so long that there are moments where you can’t tell who’s in what line. 

Austin grabs the second to last tuna sandwich. But wait — she sees a fridge labeled “Express Wraps” and looks for her favorite sandwich. “[It’s] turkey with cheese, cranberry mustard — but that’s on white bread. Can’t do it,” says Austin, who searches unsuccessfully for one with wheat bread.

1:31 p.m.
Back in the office, her meeting with the communications director scheduled for 1:30 p.m. gets pushed back. 

She takes out her sandwich and takes a bite. C-SPAN is on in the background. “C-SPAN is ever-present,” she says. “If you have a bill on the floor, it’s always on.”

Then she checks her email, leaves the room and comes back with a stack of mail. 

1:40 p.m.
An aide opens the door to the main office and a group of constituents come in. “That happens a lot,” says Austin, who was expecting the group at 2 p.m. “They just show up early. I just take them whenever they come.”

She grabs a bite of her sandwich and takes a few personal messages to Wilson before looking for meeting space.

1:45 p.m. 
She takes her notepad and starts the meeting in the right wing of the office. (Wilson’s office is in the left wing.) 

Four constituents with the Florida Health Care Association have come from different parts of the state to meet with their Representatives and Senators to ask for support in curbing fraudulent billing. 

They describe their problems. Austin bores in for details.

The fraud going on — billing or coding for a procedure different from what the patient received, for example — has prompted increased audits in South Florida. While their facility is being audited, they do not receive Medicare reimbursements for the patients until the issue has been resolved. They’re meeting with Austin to seek Wilson’s help in drafting a letter to the auditors that will force them to give their facilities notice that an audit is taking place.

The meeting adjourns at 2:16 p.m., but it ends with a request: The visitors want “to see what hat she’s wearing today” and maybe get a photo. They get both.

 Floor votes have started. 

“Has she gone down yet [to vote]?” Austin asks an aide. 

“Yes,” the aide says.

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