Roll Call’s new Hill Navigator is an advice column devoted to answering questions about life as a Capitol Hill staffer. A lot goes into making the Capitol work, and staffers are under intense pressure to get things done for their members of Congress. Since launching Hill Navigator, we have received a bevy of questions from staffers eager to find out how to navigate the ways of the Hill. Each week in this space, I’ll answer some of the most interesting ones.
Translating Campaign Experience
Q. I have worked on campaigns for the last 10 years, not really on policy issues. How on earth do I get a job on the Hill, and will people treat my experience the same, or do I need more “cred” to be able to get a job where I’m not just making coffee?
A: I have bad news for you: Hill staffers may never understand what it is you’ve done for the past 10 years. Sure, some of them have spent a few days in November knocking on doors and sleeping on floors. But most of them have very different lives from campaign staffers. Hill staffers have health insurance, they have a 401(k), they have weekends and they actually get to go home to their own apartments instead of crashing at supporters’ houses.
But if getting a Hill job is on your bucket list — and we can’t fault you for that — you’ll likely have to start in the lower rungs with a staff assistant or legislative correspondent position. But I can assure you, even in the most dysfunctional Hill offices, you’ll get to do more than make coffee. The same strong work ethic and quick thinking that served you so well on the campaign trail will be very in demand in members’ offices.
And most members of Congress have something in common: They’re running for re-election. Someone who understands what it takes to succeed in that realm will be a valued asset in any office and any position, even if you have to make some coffee along the way.
Interoffice Love Affair
Q. I work for a member who I’m pretty sure is sleeping with our chief of staff. This is making for unbelievably awkward interoffice relationships where the member shows undue deference to the chief of staff, and the chief of staff seems drunk with power, playing favorites among the other staffers. It’s almost impossible to get work done. What do I do?
My advice to you is: Run. Get out of there. Leave quietly and on good terms. You won’t win with an interoffice relationship between the boss and a direct report. You also won’t win if you leave and drop Heard on the Hill a tip (sorry, guys). If your boss’ “situation” is affecting productivity and morale, it’s likely to get much worse before it gets better.
From your question, it sounds like you’re not one of the chief of staff’s favorites, and I don’t see a scenario (barring a deus ex machina) where you wind up the winner.
There are plenty of decent, hardworking members of Congress who keep their private life at home — and you should be able to find one to work for.
Rogue Staffer at Holiday Party
Q. Let’s say you’re at your office holiday party, and a colleague — one who you don’t really like but don’t have it in for — says something inappropriate and rude to you in front of coworkers and guests. Your boss isn’t there and doesn’t hear it. Do you report it back to your boss?
A. What are you hoping to gain in doing that? A sympathy card? A group hug?
Unless the insult has an indisputable mar for the office (“You asked for a campaign check? Made out to cash?”), your best bet is to leave it alone. A member of Congress has better things to worry about — like, say, the sequester or a budget resolution or running for re-election — than office squabbles.
That doesn’t mean you should sit idly by. Write that stuff down. If this is part of a pattern or it escalates into something larger, you’ll want documentation of when it started. If it’s an isolated incident, at least you’ll have a start on your tell-all autobiography.
Got a question, concern or complaint about navigating life on Capitol Hill? Send us your questions, concerns or just regular confusion about how it all works. Want to submit a question? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions are treated anonymously.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.