Heard on the Hill

Staffer Guide: Making the Most of Capitol Hill

Insight on money and perks

One Hill perk that can't be quantified is access to and direct interaction with lawmakers. An aide is seen here consulting with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., during a hearing on Jan. 24. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Capitol Hill is a great place to work, whether you’re just starting your career or have been staff for a while. Here are some tips on how to take advantage of your time on the Hill.

Stay on a budget

On Capitol Hill, you might not get paid as much as you might like. Aside from taking advantage of the benefits you have, here are some tips for saving money:

  • Bring lunch: The food in the Capitol complex is usually less expensive than venturing out to a restaurant. Cups, the small deli in the Russell Senate Office Building, is consistently a staffer favorite. There are also microwaves all over the complex and you can save a lot of money by bringing your lunch to work.
  • Go to events: An event on Capitol Hill often means free food and drinks. And the best part is that the groups throwing the events want staffers to attend them. As long as your boss approves, go to a lunchtime panel so you can learn something and get a free bagged lunch. After work, go to an early evening reception in the office buildings — there is often enough food there that it covers you for dinner. Don’t be shameless about it, though, because others aren’t.
  • Don’t pay for coffee: Coffee adds up. Make it at home and bring in a mug. If you know you’re going to an event before noon especially, chances are high that there will be coffee provided. See how many days you can go without buying it.

Spend your money wisely

For many staffers, fun and networking tends to mix together. But make sure that you do have fun. You have great jobs and it’s worth celebrating your accomplishments.

  • Places to eat: Capitol Hill restaurants are very much worth exploring and many of them won’t break the bank. On the Senate side, some of the best are La Loma and Hamilton’s Bar & Grill and you can always go to Union Station. On the House side, some of the best are Talay Thai, and Tortilla Coast and you can always go to Sweet Green, Pret A Manger, or Starbucks along Pennsylvania Avenue.
  • Happy hours: The usual spots include Union Pub, 201 Bar, Capitol Lounge, Tortilla Coast, and Bullfeathers and they all have happy hour deals each day that are worth knowing. According to some staffers, Union Pub and Capital Lounge lean Republican while others say that partisanship flies out the window when a beer is in hand.
  • In the office fun: There are many offices that have fun after close of business, and people generally like this because they’re a great way to get together without everyone traveling to another location and spending money. Stick around for these and you’ll be surprised by how much fun you can have.

Take advantage of the perks

Capitol Hill has a lot of benefits for staffers and they’re worth looking into. According to staffers, here are the best:

  • Direct interaction with lawmakers: It doesn’t put more money in your pocket, but it’s true. The Hill network is so valuable and you get to be a part of formulating policies and legislation that impact the country. Meet as many people as you can and built relationships. You’re in a powerful place.
  • Student loans: Staffers have the opportunity to pay off their student loans quickly. According to the Office of Personnel Management, a federal agency can agree to provide student loan repayment benefits of up to $10,000 per calendar year. The employer will also make the student loan payments directly to the loan holder.  
  • Thrift Savings: Similar to what private companies offer their employees through a 401(k) plan, the Thrift Savings Plan gives federal employees the opportunity to put part of their income away for retirement and matches it. Staffers suggest to put at least the maximum percentage in your plan that the government will match, which is generally what is suggested in the private sector, too.
  • Metro: Staffers get Metro money and that’s often people’s favorite perk. Live wherever you want around the city and use the Metro or the bus system. While you might have complaints, they are very usable systems, and better yet, they can be free for you.
  • Graduate school: As long as you have a supportive office, going to graduate school while working on Capitol Hill is very doable. You might have to dip out early a couple of days for night class, but you just need to schedule to make sure your work gets done. After you graduate, Congress can start paying off your loans.
  • Speakers and panels: There are professional development events held consistently around the Hill that will provide you with free training and education. A great way to find out about these is through staff associations, who host many of them. They’re worth taking advantage of, and give you the opportunity to learn from some of the best people in the business.

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