While it may still seem like Capitol Hill staffers run this town, there are actually far less legislative up and comers in Washington than in years past. According to a report released by USA Today, the number of staff serving Congressional committees has been reduced by 20 percent since 2011, thanks to aggressive cost cutting measures instated by Speaker John Boehner.
During 2010, when the Democrats were still in control of the House of Representatives, there were 1,570 staffers serving the primary committees in the chamber. This year those same committees had a total of 1,277 staffers.
But here’s the kicker. During 2010, of those staffers 74 had job titles that included “press” or “communications” in their descriptions. Now there are 85 staffers that work in a public relations capacity. On a micro level, take a look at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, currently chaired by Darrell Issa, a Republican from California. In 1997 the committee had 121 staffers, with only two dealing with the press. Now the committee is served by 108 staffers, 10 of whom deal with public relations.
According to Speaker Boehner’s office, this is to be expected, as technology has made 24-hour communication easier and frankly, expected by the American people. To a number of Democrats however, interviewed by USA Today, this is the perfect example of the Republicans choosing to focus on the spin over substance.
“Our committee — and all committees — should use taxpayer dollars to help better the everyday lives of our constituents, not inflate their press operations to basically run political campaigns out of government buildings,” said Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland who sits on the Oversight Committee.
Personally, I have mixed feeling about this phenomenon. It makes sense to me, that with the increasingly voracious appetite of the American public for new content, news and information, Capitol Hill would rise to meet this demand. With more and more reporters calling congressional offices, and while the social media narrative runs 24/7, Congress needs a staff large enough to handle it. But at the same time, when the productivity of Congress is at an all time low, it seems like a shame that they would be paying more attention to the message they are sending out rather than hiring policy experts to actually help the politicians do what they were sent to Washington to do – craft legislation.