Order Code RL30807
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Congressional Member Office Operations
Updated December 29, 2003
John S. Pontius
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Congressional Member Office Operations
Although Member personal congressional offices vary in structure, they all share
seven common functions: office management, legislation, projects, casework, mail,
press and public relations, and scheduling and reception.
The office management function comprises staff recruitment and pay,
coordination between district and state offices and the Member’s Washington, DC,
office, the assignment and flow of work through the office, and the efficient and
innovative use of space and equipment. By and large these responsibilities fall upon
the administrative assistant (AA), frequently now called chief of staff, and the office
manager or titular equivalent. The key ingredients of effective management are
preparation, flexibility, communication, and coordination.
Legislative staff perform numerous tasks associated with preparing Members
to fulfill their legislative duties. These involve finding and providing information,
research, and analysis, and assisting in devising strategies for accomplishing
Projects and casework, which flow from request mail or visits, require
substantial staff time, and consist primarily of assisting local governments, public or
private organizations, and individuals in their transactions with federal agencies.
Mail — its receipt, processing, and responses — is a major draw on staff time.
It is also a task that Members value highly in their representational role as intervener
between constituents and the national government. There are basically three types
of mail: legislative mail, which seeks Members’ views and standing on proposals
and issues facing the nation; request mail, which calls upon Members for assistance
in dealing with the federal government; and special mail, which is judged of the
utmost importance and usually commands the attention of the Member or the AA.
Members employ staff knowledgeable about the press, and skilled in dealing
with it and with the public relations aspects of serving in the national legislature.
Press staff help to inform both Members and the representatives of the media.
Scheduling and reception duties encompass methods and techniques for juggling
competing demands for the Member’s time and the courteous reception of visitors
to Member offices.
Office Functions and Work Environment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Office Administration and Management . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Staff Recruitment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Coordination with District and State Offices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Employment Recommendation Restrictions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Work Flow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Office Space, Equipment, Efficiency, and Innovation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Legislation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Projects, Grants and Casework . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Projects and Grants Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Casework . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Assigning Casework Responsibilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Analyzing the Constituent’s Problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Handling Cases When Closing a Congressional Office . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Legislative Mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Request Mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Special Mail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Review and Response . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Press and Public Relations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Scheduling and Reception . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Scheduling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Reception . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
Appendix A: Comparison of House and Senate Staff Positions . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Appendix B: Job Titles Most Frequently Associated with an Office Function . 32
Appendix C: Office Administration and Management Staff: Duties, Tasks,
and Job Titles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Appendix D: Legislative Staff:
Duties, Tasks, and Job Titles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Appendix E: Projects, Grants and Casework Staff: Duties, Tasks, and
Job Titles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Appendix F: Mail Staff: Duties, Tasks, and Job Titles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Appendix G: Press and Public Relations Staff: Duties, Tasks, and Job Titles . 39
Appendix H: Reception and Scheduling Staff: Duties Tasks, and Job Titles . . 40
Appendix I: Job Descriptions of Congressional Staff . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Appendix J: Sample Privacy Act Release Form . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
List of Tables
Table 1. Average Number of Staff in Washington, D.C. and District/State
Offices and Average Number of District/State Offices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Congressional Member Office Operations
Office Functions and Work Environment
Congressional staff perform a variety of functions to assist Members of
Congress in their representational and legislative duties.1 Some perform
administrative tasks only: organizing and supervising the work of other staff,
coordinating the Member’s schedule, and acting as liaisons between the staff in the
Washington office and those in the Member’s district/state offices. Other staff may
work exclusively on constituent services, answering correspondence, responding to
requests for assistance in dealing with federal agencies, or coordinating project
efforts with state and local governments. Still others may work exclusively on
legislative matters — assisting in developing legislative proposals supported by the
Member, monitoring legislative activity in the chamber and in committees, paying
particular attention to the work in progress in the committees and subcommittees on
which the Member serves, and responding to correspondence dealing with legislative
matters. A few work primarily with the media, handling press inquiries, scheduling
interviews, drafting press releases and newsletters, organizing press conferences, and
reviewing media coverage of the Member’s activities. Finally, some staff work in
supporting roles, either in clerical capacities or, more likely, computer operations that
reflect the increasing technological sophistication of Congress and its link with the
Congressional offices have a distinctive environment which has been likened
to a “family” or “small” business. David Brady has identified five factors that define
the work environment in Member offices:
! Member independence, autonomy, and discretion in determining office
structure, staff recruitment, and staff pay;
! Member freedom to define his/her job as (s)he chooses and a concomitant
organization of the office to correspond to these choices;
! Diversified working environments among offices stemming from the
combined effects of points one and two;
! Loyalty to the Member as a key expectation, if not a requisite; and
Newly elected or appointed Members of Congress have only a short time to hire staff, equip
their offices, and begin operations. For full-length treatment of organizing and staffing an
office as a new Member, see Congressional Management Foundation, Setting Course: A
Congressional Management Guide for the 108th Congress (Washington: 2002).; and
Congressional Management Foundation, Frontline Management: A Guide for Congressional
District/State Offices (Washington: 1998).
! Heavy and unpredictable demands on staff and the expectation that staff will
be available as necessary to perform them.2
Despite the independence of each congressional office, there is much
commonality of functions. All offices must answer the phone, respond to written and
electronic mail, assist constituents, and work on legislative tasks. Offices variously
divide and assign responsibilities and duties. Some employ a stratified system, while
others require most staff to perform some or all of routine daily chores; in some,
every employee has legislative responsibilities. Emergencies or unexpected events
— which can occur frequently — may require all staff to pitch in and help someone
in an assignment area outside of their own. The following functions are common to
all Member offices:
scheduling and reception
press and public relations.
Appendices B-H list the job titles, duties, and tasks frequently associated with
these office functions.3 Appendix A provides a comparison of House and Senate
staff positions, average salary, tenure and age of staff. Appendix I contains a job
description of congressional staff. There is no “one right way” to define the
functions of a congressional office because events and circumstances require
periodic, even daily, adjustment in the operations of a congressional office.
Appendix J has a sample Privacy Act release form.
These lists were compiled through informal collaboration with numerous
congressional offices and through a review of the congressional literature on this
issue. Variation is common. For example, while most surveyed offices associated
projects and grants with the casework function (as reflected in the lists), some offices
associated them with the legislative function. Until recently, the study of
congressional staff organization was hampered by the lack of information from
Congress and elsewhere. The continuing lack of official job descriptions and job
uniformity, and the variation among offices in structure and the duties of the persons
having the same job title, further complicate generalizing about staff operations in
David W. Brady, “Personnel Management in the House,” in Joseph Cooper and G. Calvin
Mackenzie, eds., The House at Work (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), pp. 153-154.
U.S. Congress, House Commission on Administrative Review, Administrative
Reorganization and Legislative Management, vol. 2: Work Management, Sept. 28, 1977, p.
Office Administration and Management
You’ve never been told you have to operate a fair sized business ... And the
Member has to be able to fire members of his staff. Nobody tells you about that
— A Member of Congress
A Member’s first years in office are a kind of “on-the-job training” experience,
in which the Member comes to grips with the dimensions of his role and
develops a personal approach to tasks. Given the many challenges, the overall
conclusion is readily apparent; the key to effectiveness in Congress is the ability
to organize well within a framework of carefully selected priorities. It is not
possible, however, to construct a grand master plan such that priorities and the
time devoted to each will neatly mesh, for legislative life is subject to sudden and
The administration of a congressional office is a blend of Member preferences
and House or Senate rules concerning employees, financial transactions, accounting,
space, furnishings, and equipment. Office management entails staff recruitment,
coordination between the Washington office and district or state offices, assignment
of duties to staff, contending with the work flow, seeing to equipment and space
needs, monitoring and expenditure of official allowances, and office and staff
efficiency and innovation. Most offices have a procedures manual to serve as a
source of instruction and reference for the staff. This usually includes personnel
policies, general office procedures, and information regarding the processing of mail.
Management must ensure their congressional office is in compliance with the
Congressional Accountability Act regarding overtime, employment discrimination,
and family and medical leave.5
In the House of Representatives, Members are authorized an annual clerk-hire
allowance with which they are permitted to employ no more than 18 permanent
persons and up to 4 part-time staff at any one time. In the Senate, a Member is
authorized a staff allowance according to the size of the state’s population. There are
no restrictions on the number of staff a Senator may hire. The average House staff
size is 14. The average Senate staff size is 35, although the range in the Senate is
from around 32 to as many as 45. These figures exclude voluntary interns and
Sven Groennings, To Be a Congressman (Washington: Acropolis Books, 1973), p. 182.
The duties and tasks most commonly performed by the administrative staff in a
congressional office are listed in Appendix C.
Congressional Management Foundation, 2002 House Staff Employment Study (Washington:
2002); and Congressional Management Foundation, 1999 Senate Staff Employment Study
(Washington: 1999). Data for Senate staff for 2001 is not available. See Appendix A:
Comparison of House and Senate Staff Positions by CMF. Also see Appendix I: Job
Descriptions of Congressional Staff in this report.
She has a masters in government, (he) thinks his writing sample is the definitive
work on the committee system, has letters of recommendation from two
professors, a clergyman, and the Congressman’s brother’s next door neighbors.
How do I find out if she can do her job? If I do decide to hire him, how do I use
the hiring to set the stage for future evaluation?
— A Congressional Staffer
The hiring of staff usually is done by the administrative assistant/chief of staff,
though others may also play a role, including the Member.7 Recruitment for
professional positions is still often “based primarily on informal, non-routinized
contacts and who knows whom”.8 Immediately following an election, newly elected
Members are deluged with applications for employment. Moreover, throughout a
Member’s congressional career, hardly a week goes by without at least someone
dropping off a resume, some of whom may get hired.
If a Member’s predecessor was of the same party, an incoming Member may
keep some of the former staff, but there are no guarantees this will be done. An
incoming Member may also consult with other Members from his state on staffing.
Incoming Members who have served in another elective office (e.g., state legislator)
sometimes bring some of their staff to Washington with them. Often Members make
an effort to hire staffers from their home state or district. A number of offices prefer
that at least one or more staffers, often the receptionist, be from the home state so that
constituents feel more welcome when they visit their Member’s Washington, D.C.
Most staffers are hired to perform specific duties. In these cases, congressional
offices frequently seek out persons having the needed qualifications, skills, and
experience. Some persons are hired for their general capabilities. Duties may be
flexibly assigned on an ad hoc basis, a practice that has been the starting point for
distinguished staff careers. Many congressional staffers now considered authoritative
experts in various fields point out that their expertise began just because someone
was needed to cover a certain subject area. Expertise thus often grows from on-thejob experience.
Coordination with District and State Offices
Don’t those unreasonable people in (the district/state or Washington) have
anything better to do than to bother us with these senseless (requests/questions)?
Don’t they realize that the heart of this operation is right here in (the district/state
CRS Report 98-340, Congressional Staff: Duties and Functions, by John Pontius and Faye
Bullock; and for congressional office allowances, see CRS Report RL30064, Salaries and
Allowances: The Congress, by Paul Dwyer. For overall staffing trends throughout the
legislative branch, see CRS Report RL30996, Legislative Branch Employment: Trends in
Staffing, 1960-2000, by Paul Dwyer and Eric Petersen.
Harrison W. Fox, Jr. and Susan Webb Hammond, Congressional Staffs: The Invisible Force
in Lawmaking (New York: The Free Press, 1980), pp. 5-6.
or Washington) and that our (reputation for service/legislative profile/political
progress/re-election) depends on us and not them?
— A Congressional Staffer
Representatives and Senators are authorized space for district/state offices in
federal buildings on a square footage basis or provided public funds to pay for private
office space if suitable federal space is unavailable. There are currently 990 such
field offices for House Members (or an average of 2.2 district offices per Member)
and 450 state offices for Senators (or an average of 4.5 state offices per Senator).
Approximately 44% of House personal staff (or 6 employees per Member) are
located in district offices, and more than 36% of Senate personal staff (or 12
employees per Senator) work in offices in the Senator’s state.9
Table 1. Average Number of Staff in Washington, D.C.
and District/State Offices and Average Number of
Average Number of
Offices for a
Source: Congressional Management Foundation, 2002 House Staff Employment Study (Washington:
2002), p. 43; and Congressional Management Foundation, 2001 Senate Staff Employment Study
(Washington: 2001), p. 66-67.
One requirement of maintaining offices both in Washington and at home is the
need to coordinate between them. While staff in state and district offices may
perform varying functions, their work should be coordinated with tasks performed
in Washington. District/state staff monitor the “pulse of the district” on certain
legislative and press issues for the Member of Congress and Washington office staff.
A current trend seems to be the assignment of most casework to these field offices.
Moreover, these offices are often involved in scheduling the Members’ time when
they are at home, planning town meetings for the Member, and, of course, all
congressional offices are engaged locally in casework and projects and grants work.
With electronic mail, fax machines, cell phones, and BlackBerries, offices in
Washington, D.C. and in the district/state can communicate quickly and possibly
more effectively with each other.
Congressional Management Foundation, 2002 House Staff Employment Study (Washington:
2002), p. 43; and Congressional Management Foundation, 1999 Senate Staff Employment
Study (Washington: 1999), p. 66.
Employment Recommendation Restrictions10
Members of Congress are often asked by constituents to provide a reference,
referral, or recommendation for employment in the Federal Government. There is
no current statutory prohibition on Members of Congress providing a
recommendation or referral letter for an applicant for a federal position; however,
hiring officials in the Federal Government are expressly instructed by law only to
receive and consider such “recommendations” from a Member as to the “character
or residence” of the applicant. Additionally, hiring officials may consider and
receive “statements” based on a Member’s personal knowledge or records, which
evaluate such things as an applicant’s work performance, ability, aptitude,
qualifications and suitability.
Most of the office staff claim to be “computer whizzes”, who can handle the
large workload, but too often it is the large workload that overwhelms the entire
congressional office both in Washington, D.C. and the field offices.
— A Congressional Staffer
Work flow includes the processing and filing of a large quantity of paperwork.
In congressional offices, deadlines drive almost everything that is or needs to be
done. Letters, press releases, speeches, position papers, and other documents often
need to be prepared in short order. Successfully and efficiently coordinating their
preparation is no small achievement. The ability to retrieve materials previously
produced and filed is also important. Voting records, press releases, speeches, and
position papers of prior years may prove important to ensure that Members’ positions
are consistent over time — or, if they are not, to help explain why a change occurred.
These may be electronically stored and indexed.
The filing system is typically automated rather than manual. But since many
offices find it difficult to find the space or time to file paper copies of all documents,
computer files are rapidly replacing the retention of paper copies of incoming and
outgoing letters. Because of the large volume of paper received and generated in a
congressional office, processing information includes filing standards and guidelines.
An organized correspondence filing system, understood and adhered to by all staff
members, ensures quick location and retrieval of information. Many congressional
offices develop a central filing system which includes all issue-related incoming
letters and outgoing responses, VIP mail, and other information.
This section is drawn from CRS Report RL32113, Congressional Intervention in the
Administrative Process: Legal and Ethical Considerations, by Morton Rosenberg and Jack
H. Maskell, p. 77. See also U.S. Congress, House Committee on Standards of Official
Conduct, [http://www.house.gov/ethics]; House Ethics Manual, 102nd Cong., 2nd sess.,
(Washington: GPO, 1992); CRS Congressional Distribution Memorandum, Advisory
Memoranda: Employment Recommendations, by Jack H. Maskell; U.S. Congress, Senate
Select Committee on Ethics, Senate Ethics Manual, S. Pub. 108-1, 108th Cong., 1st sess.
(Washington: GPO, 2003), pp. 185-191; and Senate Ethics Manual, 108th Cong.,1st sess.
A number of separate filing systems may also be used: administrative (personnel
and allowances), legislation, press, mail, scheduling, casework, grants and projects.
Some offices prefer to maintain casework, projects, and invitations separately. If the
office chooses to keep separate files for some documents, but central files for others,
staff members in the Washington, D.C., and district/state offices need to know the
location and contents of each type of file. Some offices develop a “tickler,” or
pending, file for business awaiting further action. When all action is completed, the
contents of this file are transferred to closed-case files. Due to the large volume of
casework, congressional staff must strive to organize these files so they can be
A filing vocabulary is a list of subject terms established by each office. These
terms identify the subject matter of information for filing purposes. An orderly way
of maintaining the system is for each staff member to assign the terms approved by
the office, not terms assigned at random by different staff members.11
Office Space, Equipment, Efficiency, and Innovation
Input. Output. Off-line. On-line. Few codes. Many codes. File storage. How
do you select from among the various computer companies? With a limited
For further assistance in developing and maintaining a file system, congressional offices
may wish to consult the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Records
Management Unit (202-707-5592) has prepared two documents in this area: U.S. Library
of Congress, A Guide for the Creation, Organization and Maintenance of Records in
Congressional Offices (Washington: 1991), 76 p.; and Congressional Subject Classification
Outline [Coded for computer input] (Washington: 1991), 103 p.
The House Office of History and Preservation, Legislative Resource Center, Office of
the Clerk of the House of Representatives (202-226-5200), and the Senate Historical Office,
Secretary of the Senate (202-224-3351) provide assistance and guidelines to Members on
records management issues, particularly for those who are leaving Congress. See their
documents: U. S. Congress, House, Office of the Clerk, Closing a Congressional Office: A
Guide to the Disposition of Official Papers and Records (Washington: Office of the Clerk,
U.S. House of Representatives, Sept. 2000), and U.S. Congress, Senate, Records
Management Handbook for U.S. Senators and Their Archival Repositories, 108th Cong. 1st
sess., S. Pub. 108-10 and Senators’ Papers: Management and Preservation Guidelines, both
by Karen Dawley Paul (Washington: Secretary of the Senate, Senate Historical Office,
Courtesy storage facilities are available to Members of Congress at the Washington
National Records Center of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in
Suitland, Maryland (Phone (301) 778-1650). Many Member offices store closed case files
in courtesy storage. If an office uses courtesy storage, they must keep on file Standard Form
135 (Guide to Courtesy Storage of Official Papers of Members of Congress at the
Washington National Records Center, National Archives and Records Administration,
Suitland, Md: April, 2002) to allow staff to keep track of these files. When a Member is
aware that he or she will not be returning to Congress, staff should consult their SF 135 to
determine whether courtesy storage files should be returned to the office, sent to the
repository, or destroyed by the records center.
number of congressional staff, how can our office become more productive with
a growing workload, and limited space?
— A Congressional Staffer
Office management also encompasses furnishing, equipping and utilizing the
limited office space provided each Member, and to possibly do it an innovative and
effective manner. A variety of office machines are available to expedite work,
including copiers, fax machines, scanners, laptops, computers with access to Internet,
and laser printers. To these elements should be added the desks, chairs, and phones
which must fit into the limited office space provided.12
A variety of office machines, with differing applications and capabilities, are
available to Members. Systems administrators and office managers must stay aware
of the office’s needs and assure that the equipment meets those needs.13 Choosing
the most cost-effective equipment for an office’s needs can make a significant
difference in its efficiency and operating costs.
Efficiency in office operations can be difficult to achieve. The quality and speed
of each staff person’s work — as well as that of the office as a whole — will vary
depending on the temperament, experience, skill, ability, and knowledge of each staff
member and how they mesh together as a team.
While the size of congressional staff in the personal office of Members of
Congress has remained relatively constant during the last few years, office workload
has increased. Accordingly, office productivity depends on the efficient and effective
use of computer and office equipment. With laptops, computers, electronic mail, fax
machines, cell phones, Palm Pilots, pagers, BlackBerries, and other wireless
technology, offices in Washington and in the field can communicate quickly and
effectively with each other.14 The Internet makes available to field staff much of the
same information that is available to their Washington counterparts. “Members,” one
author has observed, “say they are more effective and more harried in the information
For members of Congress, who always have one foot in their districts and one in
the nation’s capital, advances in communications and information technology
have become a virtual necessity. Cell phones allow members to consult with
Staff in the Office of the Architect of the Capitol are available to provide consultations on
For a description of technology in a congressional office, see the following three
documents by Congressional Management Foundation: Survey of Information Technology
Practices in House Offices, (Washington: January, 2000), 33 p.; Survey of Information
Technology Practices in Senate Offices (Washington: January, 2000), 34 p.; and Chapter 6
“Selecting and Utilizing Technology” in Setting Course: A Congressional Management
Guide for the 108th Congress (Washington, 2000).
See also CRS Report RL31103, House of Representatives Information Technology
Management Issues: An Overview of the Effects on Institutional Operations, the Legislative
Process, and Future Planning, by Jeffery W. Seifert and R. Eric Petersen; and CRS Report
RL30863, Telework in the Federal Government: Background, Policy, and Oversight, by
Lorraine H. Tong and Barbara L. Schwemle.
their staffs from the road, faxes and the internet provide an onslaught of
information, and e-mail allows constituents to tell members what is on their
While staff in state and district offices may perform varying functions, their
work needs to be coordinated with tasks performed in Washington. Coordination of
congressional office activities between the Washington and field offices is critical to
office efficiency, so the Member can move effectively between the offices to perform
the Member’s legislative and representation functions. District and state staff
monitor the “pulse of the constituency” on certain legislative and press issues for the
Member of Congress and Washington office staff. Unless DC and field offices
coordinate congressional activities, to achieve effectiveness and efficiency, they may
be working at cross purposes.
Each of the components discussed above affects the efficiency of each
employee. It is not always possible, in the context of each congressional office, to
supply each staffer with optimal working conditions. Space limitations, for example,
may force staff to work in an environment they may consider impinges on their
In an attempt to overcome the problem of space limitation, a few offices have
experimented with innovative, space-efficient furniture. Office managers need to be
aware of such opportunities when they arise, and should be able to evaluate how well
such options will fare in a particular office. However, there may be resistance among
staffers to innovations and changes in office operations may not prove beneficial in
every case. As Members of Congress gain seniority, they consider relocating to
larger space offices when they become available.
The personnel responsible in each congressional office for office management
operations are well served by keeping abreast of the ever-changing allowances that
pertain to staff, equipment, field offices, stationery, and travel. These are compiled
in the Congressional Handbook (prepared and available electronically on line and
regularly updated by the Committee on House Administration in the House and the
Committee on Rules and Administration in the Senate).16
Lindsay Sobel, “Technology changes the Hill, for better and worse,” The Hill, Jan. 28,
1998, p. 6.
U.S. Congress, Committee on Rules and Administration, Members’ Congressional
Handbook, 108th Cong., 1st sess., available at [http://www.webster.senate.gov/
rules/handbook/toc.htm], visited Nov. 12, 2003. U.S. Congress, Committee on House
Administration, Members’ Congressional Handbook, 108th Cong., 1st sess., available at
[http://www.house.gov/cha/nhandbookbody1.htm], visited Nov.12, 2003.
I can’t believe it! The boss has just come up with three new projects for us to
complete by tomorrow and I still don’t have the floor statements written. I’m
four weeks behind on my mail and my Member’s subcommittee is meeting in
— A Congressional Staffer
The staff legislative function is closely tied to all other functions. Although
some Members of Congress view the representative role as equal to or more
important than the legislative function, most consider themselves first and foremost
legislators, and so other staff activities need to be correlated to this function.
Legislative operations include policy analysis research and devising and
implementing strategies, tactics, and actions for different arenas of decision making.
Staff members assigned these duties must be cognizant of the Member’s position on
issues, informed in the policy areas assigned to them, and aware of the key political
actors and activities in their areas of responsibility.
Preparation and organization are fundamental to effective legislative operations.
Members of Congress need to be quickly and continuously assisted in the numerous
legislative forums in which they operate; the Member’s legislative staff ensure that
this assistance is forthcoming. Legislative assistance often depends on the Member’s
committee assignments and floor schedule. The Member’s goal of being a “national
legislator” or a provider of “constituent services” is also a factor.
Senators and Representatives develop expertise in subjects they deal with on a
continuing basis as committee members. As a consequence, they need
comprehensive preparation for committee hearings and meetings. Staff help ensure
that Members attain and maintain familiarity with matters covered in committee and
subcommittee hearings, including not only the pros and cons of each issue, but each
committee (or subcommittee) colleague’s point of view, the position of relevant
interest groups, and the impact a certain position might have on the Member’s
Staff research legislation, draft bills, and prepare floor statements. Legislative
work is performed by personal staff, committee and associate staff, ancillary House
or Senate staff (e.g., legislative counsels), government agencies (e.g., an executive
department, the Congressional Research Service), organizations and associations
(e.g., interest groups, researchers, et al.), and other sources. Coordination among
staff working on similar subjects is essential to efficient and coherent legislative
The legislative director coordinates and oversees legislative activities on behalf
of the Member in many congressional offices. Legislative assistants work on various
legislative issues of interest to the Member, and legislative correspondents may be
assigned to work with one or more legislative assistants. In many offices legislative
correspondents research and prepare responses for new issues, in addition to
answering constituent mail.17
Offices track the Member’s legislative interests of the district/state; for many the
district/state coordinator or the projects director performs this tracking task.
Coordination with the Washington, DC, office is imperative to ensure that all staff
members are enunciating the same position on behalf of the Member, and to prevent
duplication of effort.
All actions, from answering the simplest constituent letter to casting an
important vote on the floor, need to be coordinated. The legislative function
encompasses various activities in different arenas: the House or Senate floor, House
and Senate committees, conference committees, strategy sessions with other
Members and staff, and each Member’s personal office. All staff, whether in the
personal office or in the various committees and subcommittees on which the
Member serves, and who are responsible to the Member, must be aware of the
Member’s position — and other staff member’s activities — on all relevant issues.
Frequently, a time-consuming correlative task for these staff is responding to
legislative mail from constituents. This mail provides a gauge of constituents’ views
on issues and legislation and provides the opportunity for the Member to convey his
views, beliefs, and positions to them.18
While constituent mail is not necessarily important as a major determinant of
how a Representative or Senator will vote, it does measure constituent views on
legislation.19 In addition, it is often in response to constituent letters that Members,
with the assistance of their staffs, first research various issues and draw up position
papers, which are then used as the basis for letters or legislative activity.
Only Members of Congress, may introduce bills and submit resolutions; the
ideas for legislation, however, can come from many different sources, ranging from
a constituent letter to an extended series of oversight or investigative hearings. The
personal experiences and observations of Members or their staff may identify
problems that Congress should address. Casework, too, can suggest the need for
legislative action when a number of constituents encounter similar problems with a
federal agency or program. In addition, groups and organizations, many of which are
represented in Washington, frequently develop legislative proposals on matters of
special interest to them. Whatever the source of a legislative idea, Members and their
The duties and tasks most commonly performed by the legislative staff in a congressional
office are listed in Appendix D. For additional information from CRS on legislative
research in a congressional office, see CRS Report RL30796, Legislative Research In
Congressional Offices: A Primer, by Clay Wellborn and Michael Kolakowski; and CRS
Report RS20991, Legislative Planning: Considerations for Congressional Staff, by Judy
John W. Kingdon, Congressmen’s Voting Decisions, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper and Row,
1989), p. 57.
staffs evaluate the idea and decide if it should be translated into legislation and, if so,
Members must be prepared to vote on a large number of complex public policy
issues. In the 108th Congress, first session, for example, there were 675 recorded
floor votes in the House, 459 recorded floor votes in the Senate, and countless voice
votes.20 It is a staff function to be familiar with the content of, and committee report
on, each bill, to be aware of major lobbying efforts for and against the legislation, to
know which colleagues might be offering amendments (and the merits of these
amendments), and to keep abreast of possible parliamentary maneuvers by other
Members. A Member also needs to be apprised of the party leadership and
administration positions, constituent opinion, and any press reaction — thus,
necessitating coordination with those who perform press, mail, and management
Projects, Grants and Casework
We feel overwhelmed by the many requests for assistance by constituents. The
casework requests are as diverse as the federal government: a lost Social Security
check; a veteran’s widow requesting burial assistance for her deceased spouse;
black lung benefits; immigration; farmers’ loans; Medicare claims; railroad
retirement; and federal rental housing. Why doesn’t the federal government
process these claims more efficiently and humanely, so congressional
caseworkers aren’t so overburdened? How can we process hundreds, even
thousands of cases, individually so that each constituent is guaranteed fair
treatment? Why do we feel overworked, underpaid, and burned out?
— A Congressional Caseworker
Projects and Grants Work
While casework tends to relate to individuals, grants and projects work involves
helping community or constituent groups identify and obtain assistance from federal
aid programs for all types of local development. Congressional offices receive many
requests from state and local governments, nonprofit social service and community
action organizations, private research groups, small businesses, and individuals
seeking funding. To help constituents, congressional staff can provide information
about funding, both through federal programs and private foundations. For this
purpose, it is also important that field staff maintain effective intergovernmental
coordination with Federal, state, and local agencies as well as with other
congressional staff in their field offices and Washington.
CRS Report RL30562, Congressional Roll Call and Other Record Votes: First Congress
Through 107th Congress, 1789 Through 2003, by John Pontius.
For further information from CRS on grants and projects, congressional staff may
access two CRS Web pages: the CRS Grants Information Webpage at
[http://www.crs.gov/reference/general/grantsinfo.html]; and the CRS Grants and
Federal Domestic Assistance Web page which Members may add to their Home
Page [http://www.crs.gov/reference/general/member_grant.html] Both pages
include audio/slide shows giving viewers an overview of grantswork, key sources,
and doing a sample search for funding programs. The Information page covers
CRS grants products for Congress; the Member page links to key federal and
private sources of grants information for grantseekers in Districts and States.
Congressional staff can order the Member Web page (CRS Product CA90001) or
any CRS reports via the CRS Web site [www.crs.gov] or by calling 202-7077132. Some reports of general interest include: CRS Report 97-220, Grants Work
in a Congressional Office, by Merete F. Gerli; CRS Report RS20514 Grants
Information for Constituents, by Merete F. Gerli; CRS Report RS32159 How to
Develop and Write a Grant Proposal, by Merete F. Gerli; CRS Report RS21117,
Ethical Considerations in Assisting Constituents with Grant Requests before
Federal Agencies, by Jack Maskell.
The CRS Grants Information Web page hotlinks to other CRS reports on grants,
including CRS Report RL30818, Block Grants: An Overview; CRS Report
RS20124, Community Services Block Grants: Background and Funding; CRS
Report 98-79, Federal Funds: Tracking Their Geographic Distribution; CRS
Report; RS20669, Federal Grants to State and Local Governments: Overview and
Characteristics; CRS Report RL30778, Federal Grants to State and Local
Governments: Concepts for Legislative Design and Oversight; CRS Report
RL31227, Terrorism Preparedness: a Catalog of Federal Assistance Programs;
and CRS Report RL32036, Homeland Security: Federal Assistance Funding and
Frequently, the congressional office is seen by these groups as the best source
for (1) obtaining facts about financial and nonfinancial assistance available through
federal programs; (2) clarifying the intricacies of proposal development, application,
and follow-up procedures; (3) resolving problems that occur when an applicant is
unsuccessful in obtaining funds or other assistance; and (4) suggesting other sources
for grant assistance in both the private and public sectors.
State, local, or private units unaware of available money or uncertain of how to
go about obtaining it, frequently seek assistance from congressional offices. An
office’s effectiveness often depends on both an understanding of the grant process
and on the relations it establishes with agency and other contacts.
Grants and projects provide an opportunity for assisting a Member’s
constituents by aiding a group or groups seeking help, and providing benefits and
program assistance to a district, city, or the state. In recognition of the importance
of this service, a Member’s office may allocate considerable staff time, effort, and
resources to grants and projects activities.
Several factors need to be considered in organizing the grants and projects
function in an office. First, where does this type of constituent service fit within the
workload of the entire office? Decisions about the level of involvement will depend
on the Member’s philosophy about grants work. Once a decision has been made
about the level of involvement, the office must address a second issue — where in
its organization does this particular type of service belong? Some offices divide
responsibility by function, that is, legislation is assigned to legislative assistants and
correspondents, press and newsletters are under the purview of a press secretary, and
caseworkers do casework. Other offices divide responsibilities by subject areas, that
is, a specialist in social policy is involved with legislation, correspondence, casework,
projects, speeches, and press in that policy area.
Depending on several factors (including workload), grants and projects activity
may be the responsibility of the caseworker, administrative assistant, district/state
representative, legislative aide, or even the press secretary. Some offices have a fulltime staff member working solely in the area of grants and projects; others divide
grants and projects activity between field offices and the Washington office, and have
several staff members supervised by a grants coordinator. Regardless of how this
responsibility is assigned, many offices have at least one person in a field office and
one person in Washington familiar with the whole process. (Casework is closely
related to, but different from, grants and project work. Some congressional offices,
however, combine these functions and call them “constituent services.”)
There are hundreds of grants or loans for various purposes available from
federal and private entities. Every attempt should be made to identify only those
funding sources whose stated purposes are consistent with those of the grantseeker.
Some much sought after federal funds not dispensed through grants or loans are used
for defense procurement, construction of federal installations, or infrastructure, for
example, military bases, federal office buildings, and federal projects, such as flood
control and highway construction. Congressional offices assist state and local
governments and eligible private sector organizations in becoming aware of available
money and how to go about obtaining it.
Staff members can identify federal funding programs through the grants
database, Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (in print), or via the Internet
[http://www.cfda.gov]. Staff may (1) apprise home state governments, organizations,
businesses, and individuals of what funds are available; (2) contact agency personnel
to determine agency interest in certain projects; and (3) relay findings to those
interested and qualified for assistance in their states and districts. Once a grant
application is filed, offices frequently keep in touch with agencies. Contact can be
maintained by letter, phone, e-mail, or in person as the situation dictates. Concerted
action on the part of staff may result in more federal funds being spent in a state or
district, thereby providing greater benefit to the constituency.
Since some constituents request the aid of the entire state delegation for a grant
or project, cooperation among Members of the delegation can minimize duplication
of effort and permit more effective use of staff time. In order to increase the chances
of a project being funded, Members may solicit the support of other Members from
the same geographic region of the country, or those key positions in the leadership
or on the appropriate committees.
At least one state delegation has established a State Projects Office to provide
this constituent service. The projects office does not write proposals, but does help
constituents learn about the grant process, and follows through on all applications
until agency decisions are made.
Casework generally consists of assistance provided by Members of Congress
and their staff at the request of constituents in their transactions with federal
agencies. Casework involves individuals or groups with a common concern, and
typically includes a problem, grievance, question of eligibility, need, or other tangible
interest or benefit.21 Whether it is a delayed Social Security check, a denied veteran’s
claim, or Medicare reimbursement, the constituent’s problem usually has to do with
a federal program, rule, regulation, or administrative decision resulting from the
implementation of a public law.
Casework involves “interpreting, interacting, explaining, distributing, and
interceding on behalf of constituents toward relief of some problem between them
and the bureaucracy.”22 In encouraging constituents to take advantage of their
services, many Members believe that a satisfied constituent is a vote gained in the
next election, while a dissatisfied constituent may well be a vote irretrievably lost.23
Casework can emanate from constituent letters, visits, phone calls, faxes emails, office hours, and town hall meetings. Members view casework as an
important, necessary, and legitimate congressional function. Members put a
premium on this service as part of their representational role, acting as facilitator and
intervener between constituents and the federal government.
Casework differs from project work in that it refers to assistance to
individuals.24 A former Senator once defined casework as “requests for a wide
variety of services requiring me to go to bat for citizens with the administrative
agencies of the federal government.”25
On rare occasion Members intervene personally, although Members and staff
are generally reluctant to become involved in such a way as to raise questions of
conflict of interest or impropriety. In 1992, the Senate adopted guidelines to be
Asher C. Hinds, Hinds’ Precedents of the House of Representatives of the United States,
vol. 4. (Washington: GPO, 1907), p. 247.
Joseph William Westphal, “The Congressional District Office: RepresentativeConstituency Linkages” (Ph.D. diss., University of Missouri-Columbia, 1980), p.71.
For additional information on casework, see John R. Johannes, To Serve the People
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984). Also see Congressional Management
Foundation, Frontline Management: A Guide for Congressional District/State Offices
Warren H. Butler, “Administering Congress: the Role of the Staff,” Public Administration
Review, vol. 26, Mar. 1966, p. 6.
Joseph S. Clark, Congress: The Sapless Branch (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), p. 63.
followed by Members when intervening on behalf of constituents; the House has
issued similar guidance.26
CRS has the following products relating to casework: CRS Report 98-878,
Casework in a Congressional Office, by John Pontius. Also available is a one
hour video: CRS MM70036, Casework: How and Why. For congressional staffers
handling casework and needing to communicate with federal executive offices,
request CRS Report 98-446, Congressional Liaison Offices of Selected Federal
Agencies, by Suzy Platt, and CRS Report RL31731, Federal Services for
Constituents Available in Foreign Languages, by Lenice Wu and Sherry Shapiro.
The CRS Office of Special Programs presents a seminar on casework and grants
as part of its three day District/State Staff Institute held periodically in
Washington. Congressional staff should check the CRS Web site at
[http://www.crs.gov] for dates and registration.
Assigning Casework Responsibilities. A Member of Congress usually
allocates casework responsibilities to several staff members who review and respond
to needs, complaints, or personal problems posed by constituents. The caseworker
represents the Member, both to the constituents and to the agencies. The personal
communication aspect is very important: every caseworker should be personable,
helpful, and ready to assist an individual with his or her problem. A caseworker
should also be compassionate, realizing that those in need may be desperate when
they contact Members. Finally, the caseworker must be well organized and know
how to follow through.
Casework is not an isolated operation in a congressional office: it can involve
the administrative assistant, legislative assistants, grants and projects staff, the office
manager, and the press secretary, as well as staff in the field offices. Caseworkers
also contribute to other related functions of a congressional office, such as alerting
the press secretary of a noteworthy case or identifying for the legislative staff a law
that may need changing.
Responding to constituent needs, complaints, or problems gives a Member an
opportunity to determine whether executive agencies’ programs are functioning in
accordance with legislative mandates. Thus, casework has the potential to contribute
to legislative oversight of agencies; indeed, some offices make it a practice to bring
casework observations to the attention of the pertinent authorizing committee(s),
particularly if a pattern emerges. It may even lead to new legislation.
CRS Report 98-878, Casework in a Congressional Office, by John Pontius. See Appendix
E, Legal and Ethical Consideration of Casework. For the ethical considerations of
casework, see CRS Report RL32113, Congressional Intervention in the Administrative
Process: Legal and Ethical Considerations, by Morton Rosenberg and Jack H. Maskell. See
also U.S. Congress, House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, House Ethics
Manual, 102nd Cong., 2nd sess., [http://www.house.gov/ethics], visited Dec. 5, 2003;
(Washington: GPO, 1992); U.S. Congress, Senate Select Committee on Ethics, Senate
Ethics Manual, S. Pub. 108-1, 108th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, 2003),
[http://ethics.senate.gov] visited Dec. 5, 2003.
Nearly every caseworker works in a congressional field office, with a few
working in the Washington, DC office. The volume of casework continues to
increase. The Congressional Management Foundation stated that its:
... 1997 survey of District and State Directors shows that 53% of House offices
and 42% of Senate offices receive between 1,000 and 5,000 cases each year, and
32% of Senate offices report more than 7,500 cases annually. Moreover, 58%
of House offices and 84% of Senate offices report an increase in casework in the
past five years — with an average increase of 35%!27
Most federal departments and agencies have regional or state offices. Members
of Congress and federal officials often recommend that district and state
congressional offices should first seek to resolve constituent problems through these
units. These are listed in sources such as the United States Government Manual (in
print) or the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (in print), or via the Internet
[http://www.cfda.gov], and Carroll’s Federal Regional Directory (in print) or via
the Internet [http://www.carrollpub.com/whosnew/whosearch.html] or via the
National Archives Internet site [http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/browse
Analyzing the Constituent’s Problem. Frequently, when constituents seek
assistance they have done everything they know how to do and are coming to the
Member’s office as a last resort because they do not know where else to go for help.
Often they feel caught in a bureaucratic labyrinth. Accordingly, they may see their
Member as a last chance for relief.
Identifying all elements of the problem is the first step for the caseworker:
sometimes individuals do not provide the whole story, and occasionally, they may
forget or omit crucial information. When caseworkers read a letter, see a referral
from the field office, or receive a phone call from a constituent, they should make
certain that they have all relevant information needed to proceed. For example, a
social security number and the age of the recipient, or time and length of military
service may not only be useful, but necessary in processing a claim.
Upon receipt of the inquiry, most caseworkers feel it is advisable to send an
acknowledgment letter to the constituent immediately to inform them that the
Member is aware of the request and is inquiring into the matter, and that the
constituent will be contacted again when some response is forthcoming. This method
establishes a basic office file in the name of the constituent, and is also a means of
requesting any additional information from the constituent, if needed.
Casework should be conducted with sensitivity to the constituent’s personal
privacy rights. Although the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act do not
apply to Congress, they may be used by caseworkers to seek federal department and
agency records on behalf of the constituents. The former law allows any person to
Richard H. Shapiro, Frontier Management: A Guide for Congressional District/State
Offices (Washington: Congressional Management Foundation, 1998), p. 89.
Web sites visited on Dec. 5, 2003.
request certain otherwise unpublished documents or papers on any subject so long
as the documents being sought are reasonably described and not otherwise restricted.
The latter statute permits an American citizen or permanent resident alien to seek
agency records or files pertaining exclusively to himself or herself.
General guidance on the Privacy Act is provided in the Office of Management
and Budget (OMB) memorandum of October 3, 1975, concerning “congressional
inquiries which entail access to personal information subject to the Privacy Act.”
OMB recommends that, as a matter of policy, each agency, in administering the
Privacy Act, should adhere to the position that disclosure may be made to a
congressional office from the record of an individual in response to an inquiry from
the congressional office made at the request of that individual.
Since most agencies will not release personally identifiable information without
written consent of the file subject, it is important to have either a letter from the
constituent that will serve as a Privacy Act release or a separate form on file. The
form may state, “I authorize Senator/Representative ____________ to check into my
case and receive information connected with it.”29 The form must be sent to the
constituent for signature and return. When contacting an agency on behalf of a
constituent, a caseworker may say, “This office has Mr./Mrs.___________’s
authorization to receive information about his/her case.” Many agencies do not wish
to see that form and will accept a verbal authorization, but only with the assurance
that a Privacy Act authorization form will be forthcoming.
Every caseworker has to develop a method of analyzing the nature of the
constituent’s problem and how to conduct the most expeditious resolution of it.
Knowing where to go first can save time; the caseworker, therefore, must have a
working knowledge of federal agencies. This includes a knowledge of the relevant
agency program, as well as keeping abreast of current legislation that might affect the
constituent’s case. Understanding the various sources of assistance, federal and nonfederal, including welfare organizations and charities, can enable the caseworker to
assist more fully and expeditiously. Effective caseworkers develop a telephone list
of contacts in the various agencies and retain the numbers of other congressional
caseworkers who might be able to assist with a lead, a number, or advice based on
their own casework experience.
Members of Congress also receive inquiries from constituents dealing with
subjects or programs within the jurisdiction of state or local governments. In such
instances, the Member office must decide upon an appropriate response to the
constituent inquiry. Most Member offices routinely respond to constituent inquiries
about local government issues by referring the matter to local officials, and if the
decision is to refer the case to local officials, the constituent must be notified that the
congressional office has done so. However, some Members’ field office staff work
in conjunction with state legislative and local government staff as a means to more
effectively serve the constituency at the federal, state and local levels.
An example of a Privacy Act form used by one Member’s office is provided in Appendix
J: Sample Privacy Act Release Form.
In communicating with an agency, the caseworker must convey concern and, if
necessary, urgency, communicate clearly, and be reasonable, but persistent. The
caseworker must also decide how best to transmit the case, either by phone, fax,
letter, or buck-slip (an congressional form transmitting a case to an agency). The
form of contact with the agency usually depends upon the degree of urgency:
sometimes the problem requires an immediate response, but more often, it is not so
urgent. All appeals for help, however, should be dealt with in a timely and personal
way on behalf of the Member. Once an agency has been contacted, the case is
tracked; if no response has been received after a reasonable amount of time, a followup is done. Sometimes an interim response is sent to the constituent advising that the
Member is still working on the case. When the agency finally renders its
determination, caseworkers have to read it as if they were the constituent and recast
it, if necessary: rephrasing “bureaucratese” so that it is simple and direct is an
essential task of casework.
An increasingly less frequent form of casework is the introduction of a private
bill. Private bills provide an exception from general laws for the benefit of named
individuals. In recent years, they have dealt primarily with immigration, claims
against the government, and vessel documentation, among other topics.
Handling Cases When Closing a Congressional Office. When a
congressional office closes, it needs to make decisions relating to the disposition of
cases, both open and closed. Some Members of Congress use a deed of gift to donate
a portion of their office files to a college, university, library or other places.31
Archivists recommend preserving case files that relate to particular issues (black lung
disease and disaster relief in the district/state, for example), only if the office has
maintained these files separately or can retrieve them easily. If one wishes a special
restriction on personal information in case files, it should be written into the deed of
the gift. Possible restrictions on case files include that the files be used for statistical
purposes only or be closed for a longer time than other sections of the office records.
Another alternative is that the depository or library require researchers to sign an
agreement that they will not use names or quote from particular documents. The
A list of duties associated with projects and casework appears in Appendix E. For more
information on private bills, see Rep. Howard Coble, “Private Calendar Agreement,”
Extension of Remarks, Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 147, July 24, 2001, pp.
E1417-E1418; CRS Report 98-628, Private Bills: Procedure in the House, by Richard S.
Beth; “Private Bills Serve as Court of Last Resort,” Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to
Congress, 2 vols., 5th ed. (Washington: CQ Press, 2000), v. 1, pp. 526-527; Joe Morehead,
“Private Bills and Private Laws: A Guide to the Legislative Process,” Technical Services
Quarterly, vol. 3, Spring-Summer 1986, pp. 173-184; Richard S. Beth, “Private bill,”
Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, vol. 3, Donald C. Bacon et al., eds. (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1995), pp. 1626-1627; Archived CRS Report 87-408, Private
Immigration Measures in the House of Representatives: Contemporary Procedure and Its
Historical Development, by Richard S. Beth (no longer available); Archived CRS typed
report, Analysis and Examples of the Major Types of Private Laws, by Jay Shampansky (no
A deed of gift is a “deed executed and delivered without consideration.” It is also termed
gratuitous deed “done or performed without obligation to do so.” Bryan A. Garner, ed.,
Black’s Law Dictionary (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Group, 1999), pp. 423, 708.
requirement both allows researchers to use the case files and gain information from
them but also discourages publication that would embarrass any specific individual.
Some casework files may be vital to understanding the activities of the Member.
Such files may initiate ideas for legislation or policy advocacy. In other cases, these
files may reflect the policy record or a particular interest of the Member. Such
casework files should be maintained separately or filed among the Member’s
legislative or personal files. The House and Senate do not recommend keeping case
files, but do suggest keeping samples of files. Such a strategy allows for redacting
individual files. Case files should be kept if the case led to agency or legislative
oversight investigation or if the case is of particular interest to a Member of
To reduce the number of open case files, it is advisable for departing Members
to set a date beyond which they will not accept new case files. The constituent’s
request is returned with a letter recommending that the request be resubmitted to the
Member’s successor or a Senator whose term is not expiring.
Open cases are those that are unresolved or not concluded by the time the
Member leaves office. Representatives have a number of options with regard to
these cases. They may pass on open cases to their successor, assuming the successor
is willing, and the constituent has granted approval. Sometimes, however, this is not
politically desirable. A retiring Member of the House may transfer open cases to one
of the state’s Senators, assuming a Senator and the constituent are agreeable to this
arrangement. If not, the active file is returned to the constituent.
When Senators leave office, active files are customarily transferred to the
succeeding Senator, or to the other Senator representing the same state, so that work
can continue on the problem. In some offices, however, Senators who are leaving
will return the active file to the constituent, with a letter explaining that they are
leaving office and are unable to follow the case to a conclusion.
Ten invitations to speak, six requests for visas, twenty-five new cases, fifty-five
legislative letters, and ten requests for White House passes. They all came to the
office today, in addition to three bags full of questionnaire responses.
You’ve got 250 pieces of mail separated into 19 categories? How do you
respond/react/help/assess/find the door with all the mail piling up?
— A Congressional Staffer
A key task in every office is responding to mail. Each piece must be read,
routed, researched, reviewed and signed. Nearly everyone in most congressional
offices, including the Member, is involved with answering the mail. Some staff
devote a considerable amount of their time and energy to this time consuming and
important task. Members often feel that responding to mail promptly and
expeditiously is one of their most important duties.32
Some Members, especially party leaders and committee chairs, receive
considerably more mail than others. Mail volume also varies from office to office
and from week to week. Responding to the flood of correspondence on issue-related
mail can require large amounts of staff time and effort. Each letter must be routed
to the appropriate staff person; legislative mail on new issues must be researched;
and the Member’s position on issues must be ascertained and, often, recorded in a
It is an axiom in Congress that the importance of each constituent letter cannot
be overestimated. A Member of the House once stated why he believed that each
letter must be written as if it were for publication:
One thing I think applies to every new member [is] to realize that you are now
big news in your home district; and don’t ever write anything to a constituent that
you wouldn’t be willing to see on Page One of the local newspaper. If you can
remember that as rule number one, it will keep you out of an awful lot of
Incoming mail and its processing represents much of the total office operations
in microcosm. External letters arrive dealing with legislation, grants and projects,
casework, scheduling of the Members’ time, visitors coming to Washington, and
state, district or national politics. In addition, there are “Dear Colleague” internal
letters from other Members which solicit cosponsorship of legislation, discuss the
introduction of amendments, or address other legislative business.34
Incoming mail requiring response can be either legislative or political in
character, it can request assistance, or it may be focused on a special need. Keeping
track of incoming correspondence is a major, time consuming chore. Most offices
use a computer tracking system to code some incoming letters and then schedule
them for rapid response. Constituents and congressional staff increasingly
communicate through electronic mail. However, some congressional offices,
concerned with the security of e-mail, will only respond with a written letter, and not
respond with an e-mail to a constituent’s e-mail. Most offices get many unsolicited
e-mail letters from non-constituents throughout the United States, and many offices
Freshman Representative Estes Kefauver (Tenn.) was told by Speaker Bankhead in 1939:
“Give close and prompt attention to your mail. Your votes and speeches may make you well
known and give you a reputation, but it is the way you handle your mail that determines your
reelection.” Quoted in Estes Kefauver and Jack Levin, A Twentieth-Century Congress (New
York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1947), p. 171. This advice is as trenchant today as it was
six decades ago. The duties and tasks most commonly performed by staff in processing mail
in a congressional office are listed in Appendix F.
Donald G. Tacheron and Morris K. Udall, The Job of the Congressman (New York:
Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1970), p. 76.
CRS Report RS21667, “Dear Colleague” Letters: A Brief Overview, by Colton Campbell.
set up an automatic computer response referring the writer to contact their own
Member of Congress.
Members can select a computer system in which many inquiries requiring a
written response are tracked and categorized by subject. Each office can choose one
of the approved mail systems by which mail is distributed and assigned to office
personnel for a response. The actual method of receiving and routing constituent
correspondence varies from office to office and depends on the amount of mail
received, the size of the staff, the structure and orientation of the staff, and the
inclinations of the Member’s preferences as to the level of detail he or she prefers in
his or her responses, as well as the priority of deadlines for answering mail.
Legislative mail concerns inquiries about a Member’s position in some policy
area or areas, requesting that the Member vote a certain way or take a certain action;
it may also include general inquiries about one or more legislative topics.
Computers enable staff to generate responses rapidly to much of this mail, thus
freeing time for letters that require customizing and for other duties like legislative
research and analysis. In some offices, only the most sensitive letters of response
will be subject to review by the administrative assistant (AA) chief of staff or
Member. In others, the AA or a designated staffer, or the Member of Congress, may
prefer to see all outgoing mail.
Most congressional offices have a policy that when a certain number of letters
comes in on any one subject, the staff drafts a standard letter or “form” paragraph and
gives it to the computer systems operator who maintains a log of subject letters and
paragraphs. Offices have a constituent correspondence management system (CMS)
which can track incoming mail, provide form responses that can be personalized,
track interest issues, and serve as a database of contacts.
A number of legislative assistants and legislative correspondents may also draft
responses on their own. Many offices use standard opening and closing paragraphs,
as well as several variations of paragraphs that can be used in answering the mail.
Much care must be taken in preparing and using these computer replies to make
certain the constituent receives a correctly prepared response on the issue raised.
Offices invest considerable time, effort, and funds in creating, purchasing, and
maintaining lists that become the basis for individualized targeted mailings. Once
an office establishes a computer database, position statements on various issues that
would be of interest to people on a particular list are developed and mailings are
Letters requiring a more detailed response, or dealing with a subject not covered
by a form response, are answered on an individual basis. Even when individualizing
letters, staff can rely on personal computers that greatly facilitate response
preparation. In most Senate offices, legislative correspondents answer the majority
of, if not all, constituent legislative inquiries. By researching and answering all
legislative correspondence, they free legislative assistants from this time-consuming
task. In most House offices, legislative correspondents, as well as some legislative
assistants, generally respond to legislative mail.
The assignment of letters requiring a more detailed or personal response varies
from office to office. In some offices, only the most sensitive letters will go to the
AA or the Member (see Special Mail, below). In most offices, the Member signs and
only sees a small portion of the total mail received and responded to by the office, but
some Members take a more active role and are aware of general trends in the mail.
Request mail consists of constituent requests for assistance. Members place a
premium on responding to such mail, considering casework assistance a vital part of
representing their constituents.35 Sometimes this assistance consists of information
only. At other times, Members facilitate constituent-agency interaction or intervene
on behalf of constituents. So-called project assistance is normally done at the behest
of state and local government units, and consists of helping them successfully
negotiate the process for securing available government grants or loans, or agency
approval or some other federal action necessary to accomplishing a goal. Much of
this request work in recent years has been decentralized to district and state offices,
with a concomitant distribution of staff to these offices to perform the work.
Special mail consists of letters and requests that require the involvement of the
Member and his closest staff (for example, administrative assistant/chief of staff,
personal secretary). Although few in number, they are considered to be of utmost
importance. Items in this category will vary from office to office. For example,
some Members may want to see letters from other Members or from local elected
officials. Most Members also want to see politically sensitive correspondence
relating to home state or national politics. Staff must learn to balance demands on the
Member’s time with his or her need to see, or be aware of, sensitive items of special
Review and Response
Review and delivery of mail is the final step. In many offices, letters are sent
to the AA, Legislative Director, or another designated staffer for review. The
purpose of review is to assure accuracy, consistency, and responsiveness. While
systematic data is not available about the lapse time between the receipt of mail and
the response to it, it is generally thought that the automation of response has enabled
offices to respond more quickly than was true prior to the onset of the use of
computers. At the same time that computer technology has helped offices respond
more quickly to mail, it has also helped interest groups generate mass mail,
correspondence, and e-mail.
CRS Report 98-878, Casework in A Congressional Office, by John Pontius; and Lee
Hamilton, “Constituent Service and Representation,” The Public Manager, vol. 21, summer
1992, pp. 12-15.
Usually one or more persons in a congressional office manages the mail flow
into and out of the Washington office, assures that it is answered as thoroughly and
promptly as possible. While placement of this responsibility varies from office to
office, it is often assigned to the office manager or the administrative assistant; in
some offices, it is the duty of the legislative director or the personal secretary.
Some offices attempt to respond to incoming mail within three days. Other
offices find that sometimes a full week or two or more is a more realistic time frame.
The amount of time allowed for a response depends on office policy, the number of
people assigned to answer the mail, and mail volume. For high mail volume Senate
offices, the response time may be longer.
Press and Public Relations
In this age of instant mass communications and a growing reliance by voters
upon television and radio news, the press secretary, many times, may be the most
important staff member a Member of Congress can employ. Through daily
contact with reporters and as liaison with the news media, the press secretary
assists the Member in reaching more people in the Member’s home district/state
than any other staff member.
A Member can toil diligently on behalf of constituents, but if the beneficiaries
of these good works are unaware of these actions, they may just decide to support
another, more visible candidate in the next election. Put plainly and simply, the
role of the press secretary is to help get the Member’s legislative and
representative accomplishments known to his constituents.
— A Press Gallery Correspondent
The effectiveness of the Member’s press relations depends in large part on the
staff person responsible for the press operations in the office. Many offices designate
at least one person as a press secretary, communications director, press assistant, or
press aide, though that person may handle other office duties as well. In most offices,
the press person works closely with the Member, administrative assistant, and the
legislative staff to ensure that newsworthy information is communicated to the media
as expeditiously as possible before it loses its timeliness.36
In a Member’s office, it is important to communicate with constituents through
newspapers and other media outlets with circulation in the home state or nationally.
The emphasis in an office is usually on “local” press in the district/state, although a
number of Members seek and receive national press attention.
The job of the press secretary is to communicate effectively with daily and
weekly newspapers and other media outlets with circulation in their congressional
district/state. They cultivate personal relationships with local, state, and national
newspaper and broadcast media personnel, and may deliver press releases if a
newspaper has a Washington correspondent or bureau. One effective method for
The duties and tasks most commonly performed by the press staff in a congressional office
are listed in Appendix G.
getting news releases out is when a press secretary hand delivers them to the press
galleries. At the same time, they can make themselves available to the reporters
working in the galleries. Frequently, Members coming to the chamber to vote also
might make themselves available to the press.
Press aides are also mindful of the deadlines for the various media outlets and
take care to see that access to information is easy and prompt, and provide guidance
to the Member on use of the radio and television studios maintained by both the
House and Senate.37 In addition, congressional press aides communicate to
constituents and the press via e-mail, the Member’s Internet web site. It is important
that the design and maintenance of the Member’s home page is current and very
Media outlets in different areas have different capabilities and emphases, and
efforts to utilize these different media outlets vary accordingly. For instance, some
outlets cover national news, while others focus more on local matters. Members may
tailor their activities to coincide with the needs of the media outlet from which they
Attention to the national media is a different task. The national television and
radio networks, the “national newspapers,” for example, USA Today, The New York
Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, among others, and the
wire services, are important to those Members of the House and Senate wishing to
build a national reputation. For Members who choose to do this, events can be
organized in such a way as to maximize media exposure. At all times, giving
reporters advance copies of press releases and texts of speeches helps to achieve
maximum coverage and foster good working relationships with the press.
There is no one right way to organize a press office. There are be as many
different ways to run a press office as there are Members of Congress. Some press
secretaries act strictly as media liaisons or formal spokespersons, while others write
speeches and prepare floor statements. Still others write and produce radio,
television, and local cable programming, or prepare op/eds for newspapers, or write
news releases, weekly or monthly columns, and newsletters. Some do a combination
of all of the above.
The press secretary may concentrate efforts towards gaining national exposure
in the nation’s major daily newspapers and on network television and radio, or may
focus on getting good press back in the home district/state, or a combination of both.
One veteran Senate press secretary sums up the dichotomy this way: “A Member of
Congress has to court two constituencies, the constituency that sends him here and
the constituency he has to work with. As a general rule, the home state press has got
U.S. Congress, Committee on House Administration, Members’ Congressional Handbook,
108th Cong., 1st sess., available at [http://www.house.gov/cha/ nhandbookbody1.htm],
visited Nov.12, 2003. U.S. Congress, Committee on Rules and Administration, Members’
Congressional Handbook, 108 t h Cong., 1 s t sess.,
[http://www.webster.senate.gov/rules/handbook/toc.htm], visited Nov. 12, 2003.
to be any smart Member’s priority.”38 Since Members’ districts and states vary
greatly, some Members may concentrate on major daily newspapers and news
stations, while others have a small chance of television coverage.
In order for a reporter to have a thorough knowledge of the Member’s positions
on the issues confronting Congress, the press secretary frequently has ready and easy
access to the Member. There is little disagreement that accessibility is the most
important ingredient to a successful press operation. Obviously, the press secretary
can only do what the Member wants, or what is comfortable for the Member: he or
she presents various options for ways of publicizing the Member’s activities.
Some press secretaries run “closed shops,” with reporters strictly prohibited
from obtaining information from anyone in the office except the press secretary or
the Member (or in some cases, the administrative assistant). Others prefer an “open”
office, where reporters are allowed to discuss legislative activities with the legislative
assistant overseeing a particular issue. Some offices have a policy requiring the
legislative assistant to check in with the press secretary after such media contacts so
that the press secretary will be informed of what has been discussed.
Most press secretaries prefer to sit in on formal interviews their Members have
with reporters or editorial boards to serve as a measure of insurance against
misinterpretations. It is not possible, however, for the press secretary to be present
every time the Member speaks with a reporter; therefore, the Member often tries to
brief the press secretary as to what he has told the press when the press aide is not
With 2,000 print reporters, 1,750 periodical journalists and 3,200 broadcast
personnel accredited to cover Congress, it is the rare Member who is not the subject
of a press interview at least once. Whether Members get a second round with media
may depend on how they do the first time. However, if they are committee chairs or
party leaders, their performance may make no difference at all. Reporters will want
to talk to them regardless of how articulate they are, or how they look on camera.
What they have to say is important because of who they are, not how they say it.39
Live television broadcasts from the House and Senate have broadened media
coverage of Congress and the opportunity for it, as have 24-hour cable news
The House and Senate each have a Press Gallery, Radio and Television
Gallery, and Periodical Press Gallery and are the appropriate resources to reach the
national media. The media gallery superintendents distribute congressional news
releases to the congressional correspondents who frequent the galleries and make the
gallery studios available for Member’s news conferences.40
Nadine Cohodas, “Press Coverage: It’s What You Do That Counts,” in Congressional
Quarterly Weekly Report, v. 45, Jan. 3, 1987, p. 29.
The Press Gallery is reserved for credentialed and visiting daily print reporters. The Radio
The congressional recording studios help Members prepare television and radio
products such as video releases, satellite feeds, and interview programs. The studios
can tape a program with the Member for distribution in the home state.
Using the press well is a special skill that can bring a variety of rewards.
According to one Member of Congress:
One of the ways you reach colleagues is through the media because they
read the papers and watch the news at night. The media really helps you
establish your position on an issue ... (However,) if you get the reputation for
doing media for media’s sake, I think it hurts your effectiveness on the Hill ...
Members tend to lose respect for colleagues they consider grandstanders.41
What are some ways a congressional office can work with the press? Some
offices reserve an hour or two a week when any interested journalist (almost always
from the “local” or home state press) can come and talk with the Member either on
or off the record. Such sessions can produce an increased rapport with the press and
can provide insights for the press into the Member’s activities.
Other offices provide the press with small, but helpful, information sources that
are allocated to them. For example, each House office is allocated 15 copies of the
Congressional Directory and each Senate office 20 copies, some of which are
distributed to press personnel as a courtesy.
Some Members subscribe to receive press materials from outside sources, such
as news clipping services about the Member, numerous daily and weekly newspapers,
and other publications. The information from a news clipping service usually
includes articles about the Member and articles about issues of concern to the
Much of the press material accumulated in a Member’s office is generated by
staff in the form of press releases, newsletters, targeted mailings, and speeches.
Some offices generate a press release daily or weekly for immediate delivery to a
news bureau or wire service. Press releases usually address a single issue, or a small
number of issues, and ordinarily are most newsworthy when they contain fresh,
timely information. They are sent by e-mail, fax, and frequently posted on the
Member’s Internet web site.
General newsletters are used by offices to communicate a broad range of issues
to the Member’s entire constituency. Some offices plan a quarterly newsletter to
inform constituents of committee and floor proceedings for a particular period of
time — usually two or three months. Many offices maintain more than one
newsletter mailing list, using a different newsletter for respective sectors of their
constituency. Targeted or specialized mass mailings are used by many offices to
and Television Gallery is reserved for broadcast journalists. The Periodical Press Gallery
is reserved for magazine, newsletter and Internet publications.
Cohodas, “Press Coverage: It’s What You Do That Counts,” p. 29.
inform a particular group of constituents interested in a certain issue of the Member’s
Scheduling and Reception
My boss races all across the district(state) — addressing town meetings, shaking
hands, riding in parades, meeting politicians, and picking up unsolvable
casework. How can the office staff (in Washington, D.C. and the district/state)
create a more meaningful schedule for the Member that allows constituent access
without overwhelming the Member?
— A Congressional Staffer
The Member goes to the district(state) three weekends every month and still
can’t meet the avalanche of requests to see constituents. How can the
district(state) staff take the major burden off the boss without upsetting the
— A Congressional Staffer
Scheduling a Member’s time is problematic as there is great competition for it.
Scheduling personnel assist in evaluating competing events and insure that the
Member’s day is well enough planned to enable easy movement from one scheduled
event to the next.
Congressional office personnel must be aware of the congressional rules and regulations
regarding press and mass mailings when planning a press release, newsletter, or targeted
mailing. Franking rules and regulations are discussed in the following documents: U.S.
Congress, Senate Select Committee on Ethics, Senate Ethics Manual, S. Pub. 108-1, 108th
Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, 2003) [http://ethics.senate.gov] visited on Nov. 5, 2003;
U.S. Congress, Senate Select Committee on Ethics, Regulations Governing the Use of the
Mailing Frank by Members and Officers of the United States Senate, S. Pub. 107-12, 107th
Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, May 2001); U.S. Congress, Senate, The Senate Code
of Official Conduct, S. Pub. 107-72, 107th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, July 2002);
U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Standards of Official Conduct,
House Ethics Manual, 102nd Cong., 2nd sess., (Washington: GPO, 1992); available at
[http://www.house.gov/ethics] visited on Nov. 5, 2003; “House Rules, Rule XXV, 4,
Limitations on Use of the Frank,” Congressional Record, vol. 145, Jan. 6, 1999, pp. H180182; U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on House Administration,
Members’ Congressional Handbook, 108th Cong., 1st sess. (Washington: GPO, 2003)
available at [http://www.house.gov/cha/nhandbookbody1.htm], visited Nov. 5, 2003.; U.S.
Congress, House of Representatives, Commission on Mailing Standards, Regulations of the
Use of the Congressional Frank by Members of the House of Representatives and Rules of
Practice in Proceedings before the House Commission on Congressional Mailing
Standards, 105th Cong., 2nd sess., (Washington: GPO, June 1998). See also CRS Report
RS20720, Congressional Mail: History of the Franking Privilege and Options for Change;
CRS Report RS20700, Congressional Franking Privilege; and CRS Report RS20671,
Official Congressional Mail Costs, by John Pontius.
An average Representative generally serves on two committees (standing, joint,
and select) and four subcommittees, while a Senator serves on three committees
(standing, joint, and select) and ten subcommittees. When any of these meet
simultaneously, the Member, with help from the staff, decides which meetings to
attend, and for how long. Members also make decisions about meeting with
constituents, interest group representatives, colleagues, and others who want to meet
A Member’s entire schedule, whether in the office, in committee, on the floor,
or in the district/state, can change quickly, due to the unpredictable nature of
congressional business. A Member’s typical day is not only long and fragmented in
terms of having to be in different places, but also is filled with constant interruptions.
Interruptions to a carefully planned schedule may come from any of the following:
change in the time or length of committee or floor activities; an urgent political
problem or meeting to attend in the district/state; unforeseen meetings with
congressional colleagues and staff; an unanticipated visit by a key supporter or
constituent group expecting to meet with the Member; various matters relating to the
Member’s personal life.
Members schedule meetings throughout the day knowing that some will be
deferred and others may never occur. Sometimes staff aides fill in if the Member
cannot make a meeting. Those charged with scheduling duties must judge the
relative importance of competitive events. Scheduling also entails initiative on the
part of staffers to foster, for example, good relations with those interest groups active
in the Member’s fields of interest.
Because Members each day face multiple and conflicting demands on their time,
office structure is fashioned so as to operate within the constraints of the
congressional schedule and the Hill environment.43
As a courtesy, some offices routinely inform the Member’s spouse of the
Member’s schedule. The role of the congressional spouse varies — some play an
active role in the office and in district or state offices; others concentrate on family
and careers and do little related to the political world.44
The Member’s personal secretary performs all or most of the following:
scheduling, transportation logistics, screening phone calls, and the personal dictation
of especially sensitive correspondence. The personal secretary may also have
administrative responsibilities over other secretaries and may be in charge of mailing
Susan Webb Hammond, “The Management of Legislative Offices,” in Joseph Cooper and
G. Calvin MacKenzie, eds., The House at Work (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981),
Marc E. Miller, Politicians and Their Spouses’ Careers, A Congressional Management
Foundation Guidebook (Washington: Tilden Press Inc., 1985).
Approximately a million people visit the nation’s capital annually. Many
people also visit the office of their Representative or Senator. For most of these
visitors, the only contact they will have with their Member is through the
receptionist. Therefore, the position of receptionist is a crucial one in every
One of the services a Member’s office can provide is helping to ensure a
meaningful and enjoyable Washington visit for constituents. Tours45 and tourist
information requests ( flags flown over the Capitol, House and Senate gallery passes)
are frequently received by mail as well as from visitors stopping by the office. In
many offices, these requests will be handled by the receptionist, especially tours of
the House and Senate.46
Because of security concerns, White House, and FBI tours are not currently available.
The duties and tasks most commonly performed by the reception and scheduling staff in
a congressional office are listed in Appendix H.
Appendix A: Comparison of House and Senate Staff Positions
Washington, D. C. Office Positions
Tenure in Position
Staff Assistant (Washington)
Field Rep. /Regional Manager
District /State Scheduler
Constituent Services Rep. (State/District)
Staff Assistant (State/District)
State/ District Director
Chief of Staff/AA
Tenure in Congress
Source: Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), 2002 House Staff Employment Study (Washington: 2002), pp. 8-9. Senate data is taken from CMF’s 1999 Senate Staff
Employment Study, p. 113. Positions that typically reside in the district/state are in italics. This table is based on CMF staff pay surveys with a response rate of 54% in the Senate and
30.5% in the House. The author of this report wishes to thank CMF for use of information in this table and throughout the report.
Appendix B: Job Titles Most Frequently Associated
with an Office Function
Office Administration and Management:
Office Systems Manager
Computer Systems Manager
Correspondent and Mail Clerk
Records Manager and File Clerk
Projects and Casework:
Chief of Staff
District Representative/State Director
Appointments or Scheduling Secretary
Special Projects Coordinator
Federal Grants Assistant
Constituent Services Representative
Legislative Correspondent or Aide
Scheduling and Reception:
Appointments or Scheduling Secretary
Press and Public Relations:
! Press Secretary
! Assistant Press Secretary; Press Aide
! Communications Director
Note: Appendices B-H were derived from official congressional sources.
Appendix C: Office Administration and
Management Staff: Duties, Tasks, and Job Titles
Duties and tasks most commonly performed by the administrative staff in a
congressional office include:
! Develop goals, missions, and operating plans for the year, Congress, and
terms and resetting priorities as circumstances change.
! Determine office personnel policies for the Washington, D.C. and district/state
offices in accordance with rules and regulations of the House of
Hire, appraise performance, and terminate staff in accordance with office and
congressional policies and procedures.
Coordinate and oversee all office operations.
Prepare the overall office budget (both payroll and expenses).
Manage the office finances and monitor obligations and payment of
expenditures from office accounts.
Monitor the staff’s compliance with financial disclosure, ethics, and
congressional rules and regulations that apply to staff.
Schedule and/or chair staff meetings.
Coordinate and supervise assigned interns and Congressional Fellows.
Coordinate military academy appointments.
Represent the Member of Congress at various meetings and events.
Schedule the Member’s meetings in Washington, D.C. and the home
Return the Member’s phone calls at his request.
Monitor high priority (VIP) and legislative mail for accurate representation of
the Member’s positions on issues.
Process administrative mail.
Write and update office policies and procedures.
Order supplies for Washington, D.C. and home state/district offices.
Select office equipment and monitor its use.
Maintain the official office records (personnel, financial, etc.).
Maintain the Member’s personal files.
Assist constituents with unique and special needs.
Manage the mail operation.
Develop policy for e-mail, Internet resources (including Web page).
While most Members of Congress have an administrative assistant/chief of staff
only in their Washington office, some Members have the chief of staff in the field,
and a few have a chief of staff in both Washington and the field.
Job titles most frequently associated with the administrative function include:
! Chief of Staff, Administrative Assistant
! District Representative/State Director, Systems Administrator, Personal
Staff Assistant Coordinator
Appointments or Scheduling Secretary
Appendix D: Legislative Staff:
Duties, Tasks, and Job Titles
The duties and tasks most commonly performed by the legislative staff in a
congressional office include:
! Assist in development of policy positions and legislative initiatives.
! Monitor legislative activities in committee and the House/Senate floor.
! If the legislative director, assign legislative staff areas of responsibility and
supervise their activities.
! If the legislative director, schedule and chair legislative staff meetings.
! Answer legislative mail.
! Research and write committee and floor statements, speeches, staff position
papers, briefing memoranda, and other materials.
! Assist in processing large volumes of single issue mail by preparing
! If the AA or legislative director, utilize assigned interns and Congressional
! As directed, respond to personal and telephone inquiries regarding the
Member’s legislative activities or current events.
! Occasionally assist communities and organizations in the home district/state
in their efforts to secure federal grants and with other projects.
Job titles most frequently associated with the legislative function include:
Legislative Correspondent or Aide
Appendix E: Projects, Grants and Casework Staff:
Duties, Tasks, and Job Titles
Duties and tasks most commonly associated with the grants and projects staff in a
congressional office include:
! Assist communities and organizations in the district/home state in their efforts
to secure federal grants and other projects.
! Prepare grants and projects reports for the Member and appropriate staff.
Job titles most frequently associated with the grants and projects function in a
congressional office include:
Federal Grants Assistant
Federal Grants Coordinator
Duties and tasks most commonly performed by the casework staff in a congressional
! Serve as Member’s ombudsman for constituents with difficulties related to the
! Answer constituent correspondence and correspond with federal departments
! Monitor casework for problems and trends which might be resolved by
! Prepare casework reports for the Member and appropriate staff.
Job titles most frequently associated with the casework function include:
! Constituent Services Representative
Appendix F: Mail Staff: Duties, Tasks,
and Job Titles
The duties and tasks most commonly performed by the correspondence staff in a
congressional office include:
! Develop a plan for managing the office mail.
! Establish mail management standards (e.g., letter format, turn around time,
Train and supervise mail processing staff.
Develop and maintain a collection of prepared texts for use in responding to
Develop routing and approval procedures for draft responses to constituent
Develop and maintain lists of constituents for outreach mailings.
Produce (or arranging for production) of special mailings.
Maintain proper mass mailings records for filing.
Prepare reports on mail volume and content for the Member and appropriate
Establish the office filing system.
Maintain office files including:
(1) file correspondence and related materials.
(2) computerized or manual indexes to files.
Establish office requirements and standards for storage of files.
Develop permanent disposition guidelines for office files.
Develop and maintain occupational codes and issue codes for mass mailings
Supervise assigned interns.
Utilize computer resources, written and e-mail responses.
Job titles most frequently associated with the mail function include:
Office Systems Manager
Legislative Correspondent or Aide
Computer Systems Administrator
Appendix G: Press and Public Relations Staff:
Duties, Tasks, and Job Titles
The duties and tasks most commonly performed by the press staff in a congressional
! Develop a media plan for the year and term of office.
! Coordinate media activities for Washington, D.C. and home district/state
Write and coordinate distribution of press releases, columns, newsletters, mass
Plan and coordinate media activities for radio and TV.
Schedule and arrange press conferences and press interviews.
Develop press mailing lists.
Prepare press reports for the Senator and appropriate staff.
Monitor federal grant notifications and announce them when appropriate.
Respond to requests for photographs and biographies of the Member.
Supervise press interns.
Job titles most frequently associated with the press functions include:
Assistant Press Secretary
Secretary to the Press Secretary
Appendix H: Reception and Scheduling Staff:
Duties Tasks, and Job Titles
The duties and tasks most commonly performed by the reception staff in a
congressional office include:
! Answer telephones and manage the main office rotary phone lines.
! Greet walk-in visitors to the office and respond to their requests.
! Greet visitors with appointments with the Member or staff and notifying the
Member or staffer of visitor arrival.
! Answer constituent requests for general information, tours, and other non!
Distribute information about Washington, D.C. or the home district/state.
Maintain the office guest book.
Send, receive, and distribute materials via the fax telecopier.
Perform general typing.
Monitor delivery and pickup of materials.
Operate office equipment, e.g., the photocopier.
Job titles most frequently associated with the reception function in a congressional
! Staff Assistant
The duties and tasks most frequently associated with the scheduling and personal
services function in a congressional office include:
! Schedule the Member’s meetings in Washington, D.C. and the home
! Assist the Member and constituents with special requests.
! Provide transportation.
Job titles most frequently associated with the scheduling and personal services
Appointments or Scheduling Secretary
Appendix I: Job Descriptions of Congressional
Chief of Staff, Administrative Assistant — Top staff person responsible for overall
office functions, supervision of staff and budget, advising Member on political
Legislative Director — Directs the legislative staff as a resource person for
legislative assistants. Responsible for briefing Member on votes and hearings,
preparing legislation, speeches, and Record statements, and, often, supervising the
answering of constituent mail.
Legislative Assistant — Works under the direction of the legislative director or
administrative assistant and is usually responsible for handling specific issues and
answering mail in those areas.
Legislative Correspondent/Research Assistant — Responsible for answering
legislative correspondence from constituents. May also provide legislative research
support for office.
Press Secretary/Communications Director — A Member’s publicity director who
is responsible for press releases, radio & T.V. spots, newsletters, newspapers
columns, speeches, schedule announcements, etc.
Executive Assistant/Scheduler — Handles the individual needs of Member
including scheduling, correspondence, travel arrangements, and bookkeeping.
Office Manager — Office administration which may include monitoring mail flow,
office accounts, personnel administration, equipment, furniture, supplies, and the
Receptionist — Front desk assignment; answers phones and greets visitors.
Performs wide variety of tasks with emphasis on constituent tours, general requests,
opening and routing of mail, and some word processing duties.
Systems Administrator/Production Manager/Mail Manager — Manages all
hardware and software used by the office. Serves as liaison with mail system and
other vendors and is responsible for any in-house training. Often is also responsible
for all administrative aspects of correspondence management system and other
Computer Operator — Responds, in a timely fashion, to letters requiring
personalized “form letter” responses. Responsible for coordinating the input and
output of names, codes, paragraphs, and letters.
Washington Caseworker — Handles constituent casework: initial problem
identification, contacts with agencies, follow-up letters and case resolution.
District/State Director — In charge of all district/state offices. Directs overall
district/state office operations and work flow. Represents the Member at district/state
meetings and events.
District Aide/Field Representative — District work under the direction of the
district/state director. Responsible for representing the Member at district/state
meetings and events. Helps shape Members’ district/state schedule and often
accompanies Member to district/state events.
District/State Caseworker — Handles constituent casework: initial problem
identification, contacts with agencies, follow-up letters and case resolution. Same
as Washington caseworker except located in district/state.
District/State Office Secretary/Clerk — Handles clerical chores which may include
typing, filing, proofreading.
District/State Appointments Secretary/Scheduler — Scheduling the Member,
making appointments, and sifting through invitations.
Source: Congressional Management Foundation, 2000 House Staff Employment
(Washington: 2000); and Congressional Management Foundation, 1999 Senate Staff
Employment Study (Washington: 1999). The authors of this report wish to thank CMF for
the use of the information in Appendices A and I.
Appendix J: Sample Privacy Act Release Form
PLEASE RETURN THIS FORM TO:
United States Senate (House of Representatives)
Washington, D.C. 20510 (20515)
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
I am aware that the Privacy Act of 1974 prohibits the release of information in my
file without my approval. I authorize the (name of federal agency or Department)
to provide information on my claim/case to (Senator/Representative)
(Social Security or claim number)
If you wish information to be provided to parent, child, attorney, or other
interested party, please indicate below.
to receive information from
relative to my claim/case.
Note: To expedite delivery to congressional offices, constituents should use the Zip
Code plus four digits in addressing correspondence.