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Congressional Staff Organizations: Just Like College, Right?

There's a group for that, too. The Congressional Staff Cycling Association is one of the many staff organizations on Capitol Hill. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Remember that time your closest friends were just down the hall from you? You could meet in the cafeteria for lunch, or grab a drink together at the end of the day at a local bar? Is this college? Not necessarily. It could be Capitol Hill, where young staff, a close-knit campus and late-night hours give the campus a collegiate feel. Add congressional staff organizations to the mix and pretty soon you could be campaigning for student body president.  

But what exactly are the congressional staff organizations? And how important are they to a burgeoning Hill career? Hill Navigator discusses.

Q . Congressional Staff Organizations. I'm new to the Hill, and it reminds me so much of college. Then I learned about CSO and even more so it feels like college. Can you explain more what these are? Do people actually make use of them? Can they host events on the Hill? Say I am passionate about animal rights. Can I create a staff organization to save animals? I just need a member to sponsor it, and then I have my organization and can start recruiting?
A. You may have just revealed the greatest Capitol Hill secret there is: It’s really just like college.  

Yes, any House staffer can create a congressional staff organization, which is managed through the House of Representatives' Committee on House Administration. On the Senate side, there is no formal registration of organizations, though Senate-staffer groups (such as GLASS ) still organize and meet.  

Creating an official CSO requires a member of Congress willing to sponsor the organization and a current staffer to lead it and submit the necessary paperwork.  

The House Administration Committee website states a CSO may make only “incidental use of official resources, ” which include a House postbox, the inside mail system and presence on the House intranet. The goal of such organizations is to “facilitate interaction among staffers.” Many CSOs are based on demographics such as race, ethnicity and religion, though there are also groups for cycling, foreign affairs and outer space. (A full list is available here. )  

So if you are keen on collecting a group of bipartisan animal rights activists and organizing a lunchtime meeting to talk among yourselves, a CSO could accomplish just that. Especially if you work for a member of Congress who also shares your enthusiasm for the issue. But as a relatively new staffer on the Hill, it might be worth your time to get involved with existing CSOs and see what aspects you find valuable before starting one of your own. (FYI, there’s a Congressional Vegetarian Staff Association which might be up your alley.)  

Keep in mind that for every staffer “passion” — be it cycling or vegetarianism — there are organizations glad to come to the Hill and meet with you to find ways to advance a policy agenda. And just like college, working on Capitol Hill means you have a great opportunity, so use it wisely.  

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