National Journal: Quick Takes on the News: More Money for Members-Elect?

Dec 18, 2019
In The News

Modernization committee looks to improve member-elect experience

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress has spent the year canvassing state governments, academics, and members themselves for ideas on how to improve the way the House, Senate, and nonpartisan offices function.

As the year draws to a close, it’s unveiled a second set of recommendations.

Cosponsored by the entire bipartisan committee and introduced by Chairman Derek Kilmer, the Moving Our Democracy and Congressional Operations Towards Modernization Resolution contains roughly two dozen recommendations. Among them are proposals to streamline communication between HR and congressional offices, save money on IT procurement, and create a database of committee votes.

One sure to draw attention is its recommendation that the Clerk of the House submit a report exploring the feasibility of providing a salary and benefits to staff of members-elect; the House currently allows for no paid transition staff, while the Senate permits one paid transition staffer.

“They struggle through this tumultuous time where they’re drinking from a firehose,” said Congressional Management Foundation CEO Brad Fitch, adding that paid staff would “almost assuredly lead to members getting a better start” and bring more professionalism to a staff hiring process often handled by families, friends, and campaign volunteers of members-elect.

A staffer for the committee said many members raised the issue, and that staff who are performing official duties should be paid out of official funds instead of from campaign funds, even those who are technically campaign staff.

“You actually have a chance to hire someone on the merits rather than campaign staff” whose skills aren’t tied to Capitol Hill, said Congressional Institute President Mark Strand.

The resolution also contains a set of recommendations that would revamp the new-member orientation process that occurs in the weeks after Election Day. Among them are making orientation services available to members elected in special elections, archiving orientation sessions, and providing education on the rules of debate and decorum of the House. The latter was proposed by committee member Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.

Fitch explained that the House Administration Committee currently handles onboarding for special-election winners, although they are allowed to participate in regularly scheduled orientation programming.

116th Congress