By Casey Burgat and Kevin R. Kosar
At the beginning of the 115th Congress, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) took over as chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).
Over the past year, the number of staff on the committee dropped from 20 to 14 (30% decrease). Of the 20 staffers employed on as of September 1, 2016, only 6 remain (30%) on the committee as of late last month. Three of the committee’s new staff formerly worked in Sen. Shelby’s personal office. And six of the 14 current staffers have been hired since February.
The committee’s jurisdiction includes federal elections, presidential succession, and various legislative branch management duties (e.g., the Library of Congress and Architect of the Capitol). It has been tossed political hot potatoes like bills requiring public release of presidents’ tax filings and the creation of an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in the election. Of particular interest to LegBranch.com readers is the Senate Rules Committee’s responsibility to:
“make a continuing study of the organization and operation of the Congress of the United States and shall recommend improvements in such organization and operation with a view toward strengthening the Congress, simplifying its operations, improving its relationships with other branches of the United States Government, and enabling it better to meet its responsibilities under the Constitution of the United States.”
Why the committee’s staff cohort decreased sharply and why its turnover is so high is unclear. Yet, it is concerning. Rapid staff turnover can drain institutional memory and disrupt operations. Readers wishing to understand our methodology for these findings should see below.
Using LegiStorm employment data, we took snapshots of the committee’s staffing directory at three different dates:
Date 1: September 1, 2016: comfortably before knowing about the outcome of the 2016 congressional elections, and which party would enjoy control of the Senate and chairmanships of its committees.
Date 2: February 1, 2017: several weeks after the 115th Congress is sworn in and the new chair (Sen. Shelby) has taken over. The gap between the new Congress and Feb. 1 allows for Sen. Shelby to make staffing changes in addition to giving staffers a chance to experience the working environment in the new congress and with the new Chair.
Date 3: September 27, 2017: just over one year from Date 1, and over ten months since Date 2. This gap grants some time for staffer attrition due to firing, resignation, or any other normal career or life circumstances (new job in or outside the chamber, moving from D.C., etc.).
Each committee staffer was assigned a number (e.g., Staffer 1) and his or her continued employment was examined at the aforementioned dates. Hence, we see in the figure above which staff stayed and which did not (e.g., Staffer 1 departed sometime after February 1, 2017).