This research should not be construed as an assessment of Congress’ productivity or output. One should not confuse activity with accomplishment. Congress is decried as ineffective and suffers from historically low approval ratings. Yet that raises another question: If this “workforce” of Congress is made up of people with good intentions, working incredibly long hours, but still coming up with a work product that is not acceptable to their employers (constituents), what does that say about Congress as an institution?
We hope this research gives the public a broader understanding of Congress, and offers congressional leaders, members, staff and supporting institutions some insight into how to enhance operations. Internally, a discussion of Congress as a workplace could lead to additional changes focused on improving the effectiveness of individual legislators and the institution. Externally, a discussion of Congress as a workplace could lead to greater public insight into our democratic processes, possibly strengthening trust in government.
If we view our public servants as objects, faceless and nameless creatures, it is much easier to deride their work and motivations. But if we view our legislators the way we’d view a co-worker — someone with whom we may not always agree, but nonetheless we respect their sacrifice and effort — then perhaps public appreciation of and satisfaction with our democratic institutions could be enhanced. This is not to suggest that examining workplace issues in Congress is somehow a panacea for what ails our democracy. Yet, if greater knowledge of “civics” is widely accepted as a cure for a dysfunctional democratic dialogue and process, then constituent understanding of Congress as a workplace is one small part of that cure.
Bradford Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.