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.
Navigating the Hill: Part 1
Before you get the chance to be in the interesting meetings with high-level hill staff and Members of Congress, you have to figure out how to get around Capitol Hill. The good news is this is easier than it seems, and it impresses people who are new to the hill when you can navigate seamlessly through the tunnels and easily tick off all the items they aren’t allowed to bring into the Capitol Visitor Center!
On the House side of the Capitol, there are three buildings that house Members’ personal offices as well as committee rooms. These are Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn.
Each building is assigned a number (Cannon is 0, Longworth is 1, Rayburn is 2), so if you are going to Cannon 345, you’d find that on the third floor like in any normal building. The strange part is finding Longworth 1345 and Rayburn 2345 on the third floor of those buildings as well. (Also, just for fun, Cannon has a fifth floor that can only be accessed by certain elevators).
On the Senate side you also have three buildings: Russell, Hart and Dirksen. Each of these houses personal offices and committee offices.
The Capitol Visitor Center is the gateway into the Capitol building for the public and has meeting rooms that frequently host briefings and events.
Now, a few protips:
The House and Senate side have elevators marked for “Members Only” when they’re in session and votes are happening. Sometimes you can ride these and no one says anything, sometimes this happens. Wait for the regular elevator.
If you’re stuck between meetings and have time to kill, head for the Longworth Basement. There’s plenty of seating and food options as well as excellent people-watching.
The entirety of Capitol Hill is connected via tunnels and a subway. The subway connects the House side and Senate side to the Capitol, but sadly only staffers (or people WITH staffers), can take the subway or access the Capitol that way. The House buildings and Senate buildings are connected as well via their basement levels, and fortunately for those of us on the hill in August, those are accessible to everyone and keep you from having to go in and out of buildings and through security multiple times.
Speaking of security on the hill, Capitol Police work really hard (and are excellent direction guides if you do get lost), so taking off your new statement necklace and putting your cellphone in your bag before you get to security is much appreciated by everyone. When you do set off the metal detectors, know that it’s inconveniencing everyone else as much as it is you, so a little preparation goes a long way.
And, finally, if you have to go to the Capitol Visitor Center for an event, travel light – no food, no liquids, no empty coffee mugs (RIP trusty travel mug from my undergrad). Those guys don’t mess around.
Stay tuned for Navigating the Hill: Part 2 to learn about how hill offices are structured and what hill staff do (when the government is running, that is)! It’ll be full of information that will make staffers eager to return your emails, take your meetings and ultimately get you hired for your dream job.
Laura Odato is the Director of Government Affairs at the Cato Institute and a generally awesome source of info on the hill.
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