The U.S. Congress currently exists as hundreds of individual employers, with all 535 Congress member offices and the various committee staff all hiring prospective employees in separate and unique ways.
But according to members of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, the lack of a central office for congressional staff human resources makes it hard to get a comprehensive understanding of staff diversity or compensation needs.
“There literally is not an HR point of contact for House staff,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., at a June 20 hearing.
The executive branch of the federal government relies on a centralized Office of Personnel Management to govern general employee pay rates and benefits, while agency HR offices address the specific needs of their own employees.
But policy and legislation has often treated congressional staff as separate from federal employees.
“Is that possible to have one, unique HR department that assists all 435 [House] offices? Is that possible in this institution or do we need to learn how to train or teach 435 unique entities how to do this?” said Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga.
Both the House and the Senate [which has 100 offices] currently have centralized resume banks that can provide individual offices with a selection of candidates upon request, but “as individual employing offices, members of Congress and committees create their own organizational structure, develop job descriptions and set work schedules and compensation,” according to the House employment site.
“Certainly, a centralized entity can assist,” said Laura Liswood, secretary general for the Council of Women World Leaders and leadership expert.
Liswood explained that such an office, while it may not have the authority to take the hiring process over from individual member offices, could provide diversity standards, hiring best practices and cross-office survey capabilities to help improve hiring across congressional offices.
“I think you can get some consistency across the 435 with the understanding that each particular office it going to have its own particular perspective on what it wants or what it needs,” said Liswood.
According to Kwasi Mitchell, principal and chief inclusion officer at Deloitte Consulting, this “referee” office could compare various offices and ensure the promotion of diversity. The office could also recognize congressional hiring staff that have done particularly well at promoting diversity within their own offices.
Alexander Alonso, chief knowledge officer at the Society for Human Resource Management, also advocated for a centralized talent management system that would offer staff an avenue to improve their skills and move to work in other offices they find professionally attractive in Congress.
According to Alonso, professional development is one of the top benefits employee seek out when applying for or staying in a job. And with congressional staff’s generally low salaries and long work hours, development potential could be a strong motivator.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.