Roll Callís 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, Iíll 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 ďcredĒ to be able to get a job where Iím not just making coffee?
A: I have bad news for you: Hill staffers may never understand what it is youíve 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 supportersí houses.
But if getting a Hill job is on your bucket list ó and we canít fault you for that ó youíll 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, youíll 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 membersí offices.
And most members of Congress have something in common: Theyíre 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 Iím 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. Itís 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 wonít win with an interoffice relationship between the boss and a direct report. You also wonít win if you leave and drop Heard on the Hill a tip (sorry, guys). If your bossí ďsituationĒ is affecting productivity and morale, itís likely to get much worse before it gets better.
From your question, it sounds like youíre not one of the chief of staffís favorites, and I donít 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 ó and you should be able to find one to work for.
Rogue Staffer at Holiday Party
Q. Letís say youíre at your office holiday party, and a colleague ó one who you donít really like but donít have it in for ó says something inappropriate and rude to you in front of coworkers and guests. Your boss isnít there and doesnít 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 (ďYou asked for a campaign check? Made out to cash?Ē), your best bet is to leave it alone. A member of Congress has better things to worry about ó like, say, the sequester or a budget resolution or running for re-election ó than office squabbles.
That doesnít mean you should sit idly by. Write that stuff down. If this is part of a pattern or it escalates into something larger, youíll want documentation of when it started. If itís an isolated incident, at least youíll 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 email@example.com. All submissions are treated anonymously.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.