The Importance of Congressional Staff

Welcome back to our ongoing series to help you advance your public policy success when conducting Washington, D.C., fly-ins with your employees and members.

As you steel for your next round of Congressional office visits, it is vital to have a discussion with your advocates about how Hill staff fits into the picture, for it is difficult to overstate staff’s importance. They speak for their members and carry plenty of clout with the boss, so treat them with due respect. This comes into play when considering another Capitol Hill truth: Meetings may take place with staff rather than the member on occasion.

Prepare your emissaries for the fact that some staffers may be quite young. They may, in fact, remind some of your advocates of their children or grandchildren. Despite their youth, it is critical to realize that these players have the boss’ ear. Additionally, in many cases, staff (and not the representative or senator) are the people with whom you will have the closest relationships. Take care in cultivating and tending those important bonds.

Your meetings may be with a legislative aide who deals with your issue (LA in Hill parlance) or the legislative director (LD). You may, on rarer occasion, gain an audience with the chief of staff. Be sure to give your advocates a sense of this Hill hierarchy.

It may also be useful to point out to your group that there are two types of staffers on the Hill: Committee staff and personal staff. Committee staff work for Congressional committees. They tend to be more experienced since they devote their careers to a narrow range of issues. By comparison, personal staff—those who work directly for a member in her office—tend to have broader portfolios and are more focused on the home fires back in the state or Congressional district.

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