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

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

Before the August recess, Roll Call tagged along for one day in a busy staffer’s life. We followed Keenan Austin, senior policy aide to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.).

Like her boss, Austin doesn’t wear just one hat. “I have a hybrid role,” says Austin, who advises the Congresswoman on foreign policy, health care and education issues. Here’s how her day shaped up.

6 a.m. 
Austin is up, and the first thing she does is “check Twitter, email, message alerts to see what’s going on.”

“Not that I need to get up that early, but I’m a morning person.”

She jumps in her car and heads to the office from Northeast D.C. 

Coffee is a necessity in her daily routine. 

“I don’t think anyone wants to see me coffee-less,” Austin says. She grabs coffee from Cannon Carryout Café on the lower level of the Cannon House Office Building and then heads upstairs to Room 208, Wilson’s office.

Then, it’s shifting through email. 

“I’ll admit. I’m an email hoarder. We get thousands of emails every day,” she says as she looks through her inbox with more than 2,600 messages. She keeps a crowded inbox to make sure she can refer back to messages or important points during conference calls throughout the day. 

She starts with the “fire signs,” very important messages from the day before. “It [could be] something you just miss.” Her inbox has a couple of messages from the staffer’s “Dear Colleague system,” which alerts staffers to get the word out about a particular bill.

9 a.m. 
She starts the first draft of a letter to Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott, citing reasons to accept funding from the Medicaid expansion portion of the 2010 health care law.

Later in the day, the House plans to vote to repeal the law. 

“I think that it’ll be more powerful as a delegation letter,” which says that she hopes they’ll have support from other Florida Democrats.

Austin shares her office with Wilson’s chief of staff, Tom McDaniels. On the wall to her right, there’s a copy of the House vote schedule, outlining the days Members are in session. Stacked upright on the floor are two district maps. The 17th district is colored in purple. “Miami Gardens is where our office is,” Austin says, noting that it’s also the district where the parents of slain teen Trayvon Martin live.

10 a.m.-ish
Preparing for Wilson’s radio appearance on WIOD-AM, a South Florida station, where she’ll take questions from constituents, Austin searches for articles relating to issue topics likely to come up and reviews talking points. 

10:40 a.m.
The call with WIOD ends.

Austin talks through work issues with her boss.

Noon
No time for lunch yet. “It’s easy to forget to eat when you’re in session. I live on coffee,” she says.

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