Salary Survey Is Off

Hill Salary Survey Nixed for Budget Reasons

Posted March 4, 2009 at 6:29pm

House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard has decided to forgo this year’s compensation survey because of “budgetary constraints,— leaving Congressional offices without a blueprint to set staff salaries, benefits and responsibilities.

Since 1984, Congressional offices have gotten some version of the survey at the start of each new Congress. But this year, they were left with old data — and many aren’t happy about it.

“As vice-chair of the Appropriations Legislative Branch subcommittee, I’m disturbed and disappointed that the study itself was cancelled,— Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “The study, which is an important tool for surveying salaries, was our road map to ensure fair hiring practices and competitive salaries for our staff.—

CAO spokesman Jeff Ventura said the CAO originally intended to fund the survey, bidding the project out in 2008 and awarding it to consulting group ICF Inc.

But soon after the contract was signed, the CAO pulled out and paid ICF $25,626 for the work already done — mainly, development of the survey questions.

Ventura declined to say how much the project would have cost in total, but a budget request indicates that it would probably have been about $100,000 out of the CAO’s fiscal 2008 budget of $114 million.

“The funds budgeted for the study were originally deemed necessary to fund other critical House operations, such as the transition to the 111th Congress,— Ventura said in an e-mail.

What changed between the awarded contract and the CAO’s decision to back out is unclear. Beard declined an interview request.

The survey’s cost is small compared to the CAO’s total budget, which includes everything from overseeing the House cafeterias to handling offices’ technology needs.

The CAO also accepted new responsibilities at the start of the 110th Congress, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) charged the office with heading up the Green the Capitol Initiative.

Ventura said Beard plans to use the ICF-developed survey in future studies, thus recouping the $25,000 spent on it. But before the CAO canceled ICF’s contract, some staffers were already criticizing its content.

Last year, the “Tri-Caucus— — the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — raised concerns that the survey didn’t include any questions on the House’s demographics.

The last survey to include such information was in 2004, when the Congressional Management Foundation developed the survey and provided information on staffers’ age, race and gender alongside statistics on their salaries and benefits.

It showed, among other things, that almost 90 percent of chiefs of staff were white.

When ICF took over the contract in 2006, it dropped that section — and now the caucuses are left with data that is four years old.

Its removal is “deeply unfortunate,— Honda said.

“Why? Because there is insufficient diversity in Congressional offices,— he said. “[I]n the House of Representatives, of all places, we should be representing, as Members and staff, the American public.—

Ventura said the CAO hopes to work with Members to “design an accurate and relevant survey that will be of assistance to all the Members of the House.—

House Administration Committee spokesman Kyle Anderson said the panel was aware of “some concern— over the survey and echoed Ventura’s promise.

“Given the current budgetary environment, we stand behind the CAO’s general efforts to find savings in House operations,— he said in an e-mail, “and will work with the CAO’s office to develop more effective, meaningful compensation data to Members’ offices.—

Members, however, will probably have to wait until the 112th Congress for up-to-date data, since the CAO didn’t include money for the compensation survey in this year’s budget.

Until then, Congressional offices will have to do without what has proved to be a useful tool.

In the past, the survey provided an “industry standard,— ensuring that an office was providing competitive salaries and benefits, said one Republican chief of staff, who asked not to be named to keep his boss out of the discussion.

“Are my bonuses right? Are my staff increases right? Is our staff number correct? Do we have the right structure?— he said. “It’s nice to have that data.—

Indeed, the CAO’s biennial compensation survey is the only resource for House-specific data.

Salaries within Congressional offices are usually lower than other government employees, and the job descriptions of Congressional staffers are unique.

CMF, a nonprofit that promotes a “more effective— Congress, began the compensation survey back in 1984, using private donations to fund it.

In 2000, the House decided to pay for the survey, bidding it out as is required by federal agencies.

CMF hasn’t won a bid since 2004. But Executive Director Beverly Bell said the group uses the information to help offices get set up and includes it in a “Setting Course— management guide distributed to every office at the beginning of each Congress.

When the new survey didn’t come out as expected, the group got calls from staffers eager to get the data, she said.

So far, CMF has aided offices using the 2006 data.

But she didn’t rule out a possible CMF compensation survey, if the private funds could be found.

“We serve the House offices,— she said. “If we had offices ask us about doing it and request that we do it, we would consider it.—