My old haunt, the Washington Times, has a nice piece about one of my older haunts — Congress.
The story is that low pay (compared to the private-sector jobs on the other side of the revolving door) and long hours are leading to high rates of turnover on congressional staffs, which are consequently younger and less experienced than taxpayers might expect.
Dig the clever lede: “The most powerful nation on Earth is run largely by 24-year-olds.”
I don’t know about that largely, but it’s true that the congressional office complex, if not the Capitol itself, can seem like a university campus. I worked in a House leadership office, a standing House committee office, and briefly in a New Jersey district office. Much of the work that’s done in those offices is well within the ken of an eager and reasonably well-educated twentysomething. I’m talking about answering constituents’ mail, organizing visitor tours for them, and helping them navigate the labyrinth of federal agencies. Congressional offices also employ at least one press spokesman — and, chances are, their media interlocutors are quite young themselves.
It was always my impression, however, that the more substantive legislative business that Congress considers was handled by seasoned grownups — especially on subcommittee staffs with a sure knowledge of the areas of federal code they have jurisdiction over.
Yet, according to the Times article, these jobs, too, are turning over at an alarming rate:
Even policy wonks in the most nonpolitical of positions, “professional staff” in the Senate committees where most legislative work gets done, last only five years on average, from the time they got their first job in Congress to the time they found a new employer.
This is troubling.
And the irony is that cutting funding to Congress itself, in the name of deficit reduction, might make the problem worse:
Though it seems paradoxical, a lack of knowledge and resources by congressional staffers can make for waste, [former Congressional Research Service lawyer Daniel] Schuman said, citing an inability to conduct oversight, agency regulations that are left unchallenged, loopholes slipped into laws that are giveaways for special interests and poorly implemented programs.
Such has always been the argument against term-liming members of Congress. However understandable the urge to “throw the bums out” may be, the irreducible reality is that while elected bums come and go, the implacable bums you’ve never heard of grow more powerful.