Diversity in Congress Starts at the Staff Level

Moh Sharma leads the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association

Moh Sharma has worked for the House Democratic Caucus for three and a half years. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Moh Sharma has worked for the House Democratic Caucus for three and a half years. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted October 13, 2016 at 5:00am

While California Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra is working to make Congress more diverse, one of his staffers is hoping to increase diversity among those who work there. 

Moh Sharma, a senior policy adviser for the House Democratic Caucus, which Becerra chairs, has been the president of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association for three years.

“[Becerra] is committed to building a diverse Congress but he sees the value of diverse staff too,” Sharma said. “When I’m talking about diversity — ethnic, race, class, geographical, gender, sexuality — diversity matters and it adds value. I think that’s fundamental to him and that’s why it’s great working for him because I think that, too.”

The association, known as CAPASA, is working to recruit, mentor and train Asian-Pacific Americans hoping to work on the Hill.

The date the association was founded is lost to history. After its formation, there were so few Asian-Pacific Americans working on the Hill that it died out. It was revived in 1998.

[What’s the Secret to Balancing a Hill Job and Extracurriculars?]

“Everyone gets on the Hill because someone helped them,” Sharma said. “I just want to help other people.”

Sharma has been on Capitol Hill for five years. She started as a fellow with the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies for California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu.

Shortly after, she became a legislative aide in Chu’s office, and then began working for the House Democratic Caucus three and a half years ago.

“When I came, [the association] was up and running and I told myself I wanted to stay on the Hill and I wanted to be a staffer,” Sharma said. “And if I was able to do that, I could join CAPASA and try to help other people, too.”

Now, she is doing just that.

“One thing I’ve been trying to work on is just getting more diverse Hill staffers,” she said. “As much as people are conscious of it, we’ve got to work on it. America is very diverse.”

The House Democratic Caucus has a Diversity and Recruitment Initiative and Sharma finds a lot of overlap with that. She has met with interns looking for full-time jobs on the Hill, and paired them up with the caucus’ initiative to get placed in a job.

[Can’t Figure Out Your Hill Job? There’s an Outlet for That]

“You make time for it because it matters,” Sharma said about balancing her career.

CAPASA’s board is made up of 10 staffers and the email list has more than 400 people on it, including alumni and interns.

The association’s events are open to everyone, and include everything from professional development brown-bags in which chiefs of staff and legislative directors teach lower-level staffers to events with other caucuses like the Women’s Congressional Staff Association.

“We had a coffee today for Filipino-American Heritage Month,” Sharma said last Wednesday. “We had Filipino ice cream and people talked and connected.”

There is also a mentoring program and a jobs board that’s updated with new openings on the Hill.

“I got here because people helped me so I’ve got to help other people,” she said.