Welcome to Capitol Hill! Hit the Ground Running
Now that Election Day euphoria has worn off, planning for the congressional office can begin. With New Member Orientation gearing up and offices looking to staff up quickly, how can new staffers hit the ground running? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I am a huge fan of your blog. … Do you have any advice for staffers who have experience working for an elected official but need to adjust to the atmosphere of the Hill come January? Also, are there any resources available or orientations to incoming Hill Staffers? Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.
Congratulations, and welcome to Washington! Winning a competitive election is no small feat and hopefully your boss appreciates your efforts and intends to take you with him or her to staff up the new office in January.
Myriad resources exist to help with the transition. Your boss will have a chance to learn many of them firsthand during New Member Orientation , where he or she and another staffer will be inundated with all things Capitol Hill: from selecting office space to learning about hiring budgets.
But what about staffers who aren’t coming to orientation, but still plan to be setting up shop on the fifth floor of Cannon come January? (If luck of the draw means you’re in this building, take heart, you’ll be surrounded by new member offices like yours, and it gives a bit more peace and quiet than some of the other halls.)
New staffers who want to learn the ropes of Capitol Hill have access to tons of free resources from the House Learning Center , the Senate Office of Education and Training and the Congressional Research Service. Such trainings are designed to help on everything from managing time, to researching legislation, to learning about the Thrift Savings Plans. (And of course, subscribe to our newsletters to make sure you get Hill Navigator columns.)
For those in management positions, the Congressional Management Foundation publishes “Setting Course,” a must-read guide on how to set up and staff a new office. Every office will get a copy in January. (If some other aspirational staffers make off with it, just call Bradford Fitch at the Congressional Management Foundation and his group will reissue a copy to the new chief of staff. Tell him Hill Navigator sent you.)
If you’re looking for something more specific, and have money set aside for training and education purposes, the CMF offers professional development tailored to an office’s needs. Captiol.net and the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University have a list of classes and seminars that are available for a fee.
Even after you’ve mastered the constituent mail system and basics of legislative research, there are still a few tips that might help set you up for success.
1. Build that network. The more people you get to know who can give you constructive feedback on how to succeed on Capitol Hill, the better. “I got some of the best advice when I was a young chief of staff on a bar stool at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove,” Fitch says. He points out that turnover is high for campaign staff: “The skill sets for a campaign are different than running an office.” Spend time learning how to ace your future role on Capitol Hill, rather than assuming your campaign whiz-kid tactics will be all you need to succeed.
Not sure where to find that network? Try a Congressional Staff Organization , or reach out to party leadership. Leadership offices maintain staff on their “Member Services” teams to help stand up new offices. The campaign committees are a resource for non-official activities. (Let’s face it — if you’ve won a tough race, you’re likely to face another one in two years.) They’ll help you keep official business within the House office walls and unofficial business off campus. Staffers from the campaign trail might not be used to such lines of demarcation, but you’ll quickly see how necessary they are, and why it’s important to have people around who can make sure you don’t over step.
2. Adjust those expectations. The campaigns may not be glamorous, but the winner-take-all, dramatic flourish of the campaign trail lends itself to more excitement than the day-to-day, sometimes mundane tasks of Capitol Hill — “House of Cards'” Frank Underwood’s office aside. Working on Capitol Hill is incredibly rewarding, but it might not have the thrill or pace of the campaign trail. Adjusting your daily expectations will help a great deal.
3. Keep Learning. Even after you’ve ordered the business cards, cranked up the constituent mail system and found your way through the Rayburn tunnel, keep the “there’s more to learn” attitude. A consummate Hill staffer never stops learning. Whether it’s enrolling in a CRS class, connecting with your delegation offices or regularly reading Hill Navigator (Thank you!), take advantage of the resources offered to you. It will help set you up for success long after the election cycle ends.
Got a question, concern or complaint about navigating life on Capitol Hill? Email us at email@example.com or submit online at https://roll.cl/hillnavigator. All submissions are treated anonymously.
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