Which Senate offices had the highest staff turnover in 2017?

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By Casey Burgat

How do the staff turnover data for Senators compare to those of their House colleagues? This week, Senate offices are placed under the 2017 turnover microscope and reveal some interesting findings.

Relying on disbursement data submitted to the Secretary of the Senate, cleaned and verified by LegiStorm, a new LegBranch.com analysis reveals which senators led offices with the highest and lowest staff turnover rates in 2017. This snapshot analysis is part of a larger (forthcoming) project on Hill staff turnover that includes over 15 years of data.

What do the data show?

Turnover rates used in this analysis were constructed by dividing the number of staff that left a particular office (either voluntarily or involuntarily) by the total number of staff the office employed during the year. The median level of staff turnover in Senate offices for 2017 was 16.9 percent. Senators who left Congress during 2017, and thus experienced 100 percent staff turnover, were not included in the analysis. Senators who did not serve more than six months in the chamber were also excluded.

The chart above, and corresponding tables below, show the senators with the lowest and highest levels of staff turnover in 2017. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) led the most stable Senate office with only two aides (0.037 percent turnover) departing during 2017. Sen. John Thune’s (R-SD) office experienced the highest level of staff turnover with 30.1 percent of his aides departing in a single year. Thirty senators had turnover rates of 20 percent or more in 2017, while 33 senators led offices that lost less than 15 percent of their staffers.

Variations in the data by party and member gender

Twelve of the 15 (80 percent) most stable Senate offices are held by Democrats (this includes Independent Senators Bernie Sanders and Angus King, as both caucus with Democrats). On the other end of the turnover spectrum, 11 of the 15 offices (73 percent) with the highest staff turnover are Republican.

Of the 30 lawmakers with 20 percent or higher turnover, 21 (or 70 percent) are Republican. Some of this turnover can likely be attributed to the Trump administration hiring veteran Republican staff off the Hill to help fill White House and federal agency positions. But, as revolving door research suggests, higher turnover in Republican offices could also be due to majority-party staff cashing in on their connections and moving to positions with businesses and other special interest organizations.

Women senators lead both high and low turnover offices. Females represent 22 percent of Senate lawmakers --- nine of the 30 senators (30 percent) with the highest turnover are women while five of the 30 (16.7 percent) most stable offices are led by women. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) office had the highest turnover rate among female senators with 27 percent of her aides turning over in 2017. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) led the most stable office among female senators with a 6.3 percent turnover rate.

Comparing House and Senate Staff Turnover - Quick Tidbits

  • House offices employed, on average, 22 staffers in 2017. In the Senate, the average number of aides per lawmaker is 62.
  • Average 2017 turnover in the House was 18.5 percent, with a standard deviation of 8.7 percent. Senate offices were a bit more stable with an average turnover rate of 16.95 percent, and a much smaller standard deviation of 5.5 percent.
  • The percentage of staff that departed one member’s office and took a job in another congressional office varies considerably by chamber. In the House, 44 percent of aides stayed in Congress after leaving their job; in the Senate, that number jumps to 69 percent, suggesting that Senate aides may be more employable to other Hill offices than their House counterparts, and/or that Senate aides are more committed to remaining in Congress than House aides.
  • Of the aides that departed the offices of Sens. Michael Bennet and Ted Cruz, over 90 percent of them found another job in a different congressional office.

Tables 1 and 2 depict the senators with the highest and lowest staff turnover rates, respectively. Included in the tables are the number of staff employed and the number of departing aides, excluding interns, fellows, part-time, and temporary employees.

Additionally, the tables show the number and percentages of staff that departed a lawmaker’s office, but remained working in Congress (i.e., left one member and joined another member’s office or a congressional committee). This measure allows a deeper look at intra-office environments in that it highlights the lawmakers whose departing staff decided to continue working in Congress versus those who decided to leave the institution altogether.

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Notes on methodology:

  • Turnover rates are calculated by dividing the number of staff who departed a member's office during 2017 by the number of staff who received payment from a specific Senator at any point during the 2017 calendar year.
  • Staff includes any aide associated with a specific Senator. This includes committee and leadership offices associated with an individual member (i.e., committee chairs and Senate leaders have higher staff counts because they are allocated additional staffing resources to help with their additional responsibilities).
  • This analysis does not include interns, fellows, part-time, or temporary staffers.

Casey Burgat is a Governance Project fellow with the R Street Institute.