Editor’s note: Heard on the Hill offers this guide to staffers for navigating the waters on Capitol Hill, from getting that first job to how to make the most of your career.
Scheduling a congressman’s time was the most challenging job for Meghan Dubyak, until recently the press secretary to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“Scheduling is one of the hardest jobs in the public arena because you’re dealing with the member’s most valuable asset, which is his time,” said Dubyak, 34.
In 2004, right out of college in upstate New York, Dubyak took a job with New York Democratic Rep. Steve Israel as his scheduler, staff assistant and systems administrator.
“It gives you a quick understanding of what the priorities are of a member and how to manage his time,” she said. “You have a hand in every big decision that’s being made.”
Over the four years in Israel’s office, Dubyak was also a legislative correspondent, a legislative assistant working on health and education issues, and communications director.
“Starting in an office that was busy and fast-paced and focused on communications was really helpful and also an office that promoted from within. I think that’s one of the most important things for staffers to look at,” she said.
Dubyak always knew she was interested in communications and when she was working on policy, she said she was always looking for how communications could advance policy objectives.
“Having a policy background, I think, only makes me more effective in communications because I understand the legislative process,” she said. “I understand what goes into policy.”
When Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown had a press secretary opening in 2008, she switched to his office because he was her home-state senator. She was promoted in 2010 to his communications director.
“Moving to a state like Ohio that was in the public eye, a large state with 12 media markets and a competitive state in general, was a great opportunity,” she said. “Also, working for a senator who valued communications, is married to a journalist and understands how communications work and sees it as important and not just an afterthought.”
She added, “That was all helpful in preparing me to work for the vice president.”
In 2015, she took the job as Biden’s press secretary and stayed in that role until the end of the Obama administration.
Her advice to staffers: Approach every job with “respect and humor and a good attitude.”
And learn as much as possible while you’re on the Hill, she added.
“Maybe go down a nontraditional path,” she said. “It didn’t necessarily make sense for me to move into a policy role but I learned something and I’m able to broaden my skill set.”
She said she values the relationship between Congress and the White House just as much as Biden, who served in the Senate for more than 35 years.
“Always being responsive and getting back to people is really critical and if you can learn to do that in the Senate, you’re more prepared to do it on a larger scale,” she said. “Understanding the administration and how Congress interacts with the administration is a helpful background.”