Navigating the Hill: Part 2
It can be a challenge to figure out who to contact in a congressional office, because the job titles don’t always make it clear. How is a Legislative Assistant different than a Legislative Correspondent? Should you contact committee staff or personal office staff? Knowing who does what and contacting the correct person makes it more likely that your request will get answered and you’ll start off on the right foot with that office.
House and Senate personal offices are similar in structure, though Senate offices typically have larger staffs. The Staff Assistant is who you run into when you walk into an office; staff assistants handle phones, office visitors, some constituent requests, and often times manage tours and interns. These are the staff who bear the brunt of angry phone calls from constituents, so be nice, because you might be the only nice phone call they get all day. Many offices often promote from within as well, so don’t dismiss staff assistants just because they aren’t necessarily working on legislation or because you think they aren’t important – people always remember courteousness early on.
Similarly, the Scheduler is an integral part of any office, as he or she is the point of contact for meeting and speaking requests.
Legislative Correspondents are part of the policy staff, though they often handle some constituent, tour and intern issues as well. They also have a legislative portfolio, meaning they are responsible for a handful of policy issues and any corresponding committee work, legislation, or upcoming votes on those issues.
Legislative Assistants are more senior staff and have a broader portfolio of issues, often encompassing some of the more high profile issues, such as appropriations or defense.
Legislative Assistants and Correspondents report to the Legislative Director, who is responsible for coordinating all of that office’s policy work to the Member. The Legislative Director works closely with and reports to the Chief of Staff, who manages both the policy, political and administrative aspects of the office.
Additionally, each House and Senate committee also has committee staff, who work for the committee itself rather than an individual member. These staffers usually have significant background in the policy areas of their committee as well as procedural knowledge. Just to make things a little more confusing, senior Members of committees often have staffers in their personal office who work solely on those committee issues.
Each office and committee does things a little differently, but two things are always true: 1) There is a lot of movement within offices and between offices, so be nice to everyone regardless of their position, because you never know where they’ll end up, and 2) Staffers know that it’s hard to figure out who has what responsibility in a given office, so never be afraid to ask!
Laura Odato is the Director of Government Affairs at the Cato Institute.
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