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All About Meeting with Legislative Staff

When you start your advocacy day scheduling process, be aware that some of your legislators will be unavailable and you will meet with their staffers instead. This may seem inconsiderate or a waste of time, but these meetings are just as important as meeting directly with your legislator. Let’s take a look at what a Congressional staff is like and what you can do to ensure that you have an impactful meeting.

In the House of Representatives, a Congressman’s DC office staff is typically 10-13 people, give or take an intern. When I have spoken with past advocacy day participants, most are surprised that majority of their Congressman’s staff are young professionals. Yes, it is true that Congressional staffers are young with the average age range of 22-26 years old. The most notable exceptions are the chief of staff and legislative director, the two highest positions in the office after the Congressman. These positions are generally filled with middle aged professionals with a spouse, kids, mortgage, etc.

So why is the legislature staffed by college fresh twenty somethings? Well ,these staffers are often underpaid, starting salary for entry level position is around 30K a year and I have heard of salaries as low as 25k a year. DC is an expensive city and it is near impossible to support oneself on this salary. Staffers are also over worked, in session staffers may work as much as 60-80 hours a week. Lastly, there is virtually no job security. All the federal employee laws that are in place in other departments do not exist on the Hill. Staffers can be fired at will and some Congressional members have a reputation for cycling staffers every 6-12 months. In addition, the staffers’ jobs are in danger every two years with elections. If the member is voted out, the staffer loses his or her job as well.

On the Senate side, the staff tends to be much larger. Depending on the Senator’s state size, position in leadership, and committee assignment, staff can range from 30-50 people. Many of these staffers tend to be young as well, but there are vastly more graduate degree holders working on the Senate side. There is slightly more job security for Senate staffers because elections only occur every six years, but Senators can also fire their staffers at will. The pay is also slightly better, but not enough to really make a distinction. The Senate staffers’ working hours are also identical to House staffers.

Now that you have some background on congressional staffers, let’s talk about what to expect during your meeting. The Congressional staffer is always very courteous during the meeting. The staffer will also pay close attention to your concerns, regardless of whether or not their boss agrees with your position. The staffer will be especially interested in your concerns if you are a constituent. A common error I find among people undertaking their own advocacy day scheduling is to not take the meeting with the young staffer seriously. This is a big mistake. Although young, I promise that the staffer is extremely well versed in the issues you wish to discuss. They eat, sleep, breath, swim, text, tweet, message, read, and everything else with the issues. Additionally, the legislator will turn to the appropriate staffer, regardless of age, for advice during crucial decisions and votes. It is imperative that you have a good meeting and leave a strong impression on the staffer as he or she will advise the member on that issue.

Be aware that any meeting you schedule will likely be very short. Meetings with Congressional staffers are 15 minutes max. Ensure that you get the most out of your meeting by preparing a concise set of points. I suggest doing some role play with a friend and/or practicing in front of the mirror the night before.

If you want to learn more about how to be an effective advocacy as well as our advocacy day scheduling services, check out our advocacy day scheduling and empowered advocates pages! Or just contact us.

Stephanie Vance