- Citizens United Case Helped Elect More Republicans
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- Franken Maintains Lead in Minnesota
- Senator's Refusal to Resign Changed South Dakota Politics
August 26, 2014
“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America — there’s the United States of America.” Wise, congenial words from then-Sen. Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic Convention. But has a post-partisan world come to Capitol Hill? Are we indeed a United House of Staffers? Not necessarily. Hill Navigator discusses when and how to switch political parties as a congressional staffer.
Q. Would it be better to reject an internship offer if it’s with a party you personally do not agree with even if it’s your only offer? I want to learn about a Senator’s office, but don’t want to be blackballed later on. What is the etiquette?
A. Generally D.C. is the land of “pick your party and stay with it.” Your personal beliefs and work history aside, it is understood that you align with the party of your boss.
But there are exceptions. And interning — particularly for a home-state member of Congress — is a common exception to that rule.
The etiquette is such: You can make a party switch once; once you change, you cannot leap back. There is no revolving door of party affiliations, only a one-way exit. Interning for the party you want to work for is helpful given that many members work closely with offices from their same party. But lots of members have strong bipartisan relationships, or work closely with their entire delegation. It’s very possible your internship can be the Hill experience you need to land a full time job with the member and party of your choice.
Another option to consider is interning in the House of Representatives. Most states have more House members than senators, and there may be someone of your desired party from your home state who is willing to bring you on board.
If you do swallow that poison pill and work for the opposing party, do your best to remain professional at all times. If you can, mention your concerns in your internship and see how they respond; you can often gauge an office’s tolerance for bipartisanship during the interview process. Remember that your personal beliefs do not factor into your boss’s policy decisions — especially at the intern and entry-level positions.
Once you arrive, impress your office by being professional and courteous at all times. It will pay dividends when your internship ends and your cross-party job search begins. And check out Hill Navigator’s Ultimate Capitol Hill Internship Guide eBook for broader tips about acing your internship.
Have a question for Hill Navigator? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or use our submission form. All queries will be treated anonymously. Follow Hill Navigator on Twitter, Facebook, and get it delivered to your inbox by signing up on the right hand sidebar under “SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL.”
August 21, 2014
Looking to make a switch from law firm life? Maybe you’d like to be more of an Erin Brockovich and less of an Ally McBeal. But how does time at a law firm — especially one outside of D.C. — affect your Capitol Hill job search? Hill Navigator discusses.
August 19, 2014
August 12, 2014
Think your past can come back to haunt you when searching for a job on Capitol Hill? What if it includes a less-than-stellar record that hasn’t been scrubbed? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. If I have a misdemeanor public intoxication on my record from college, will I be able to get a job on Capitol Hill?
A. Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: It depends. Most offices on Capitol Hill don’t do background checks, and those that would go through the trouble are looking for felonies or anti-American activities, not the kind that will earn you a night in the drunk tank.
Where your misdemeanor is most likely to surface as an issue is during a security clearance, which does come with certain Capitol Hill and administration positions.
The legislative branch uses guidelines from the Department of Defense for conducting staff security clearances. (You can find them online here). Disqualifying conditions may include arrest and/or conviction of a felony; frequent involvement with authorities even as a juvenile, and a DWI/DUI. You can also be disqualified for deliberately omitting or concealing information, so while that public intoxication by itself isn’t likely to ruin your security clearance, keeping mum on it could make it worse.
Most Hill staffers went to college, and not all were the upstanding citizens they are now, certainly not at all hours of the day. Consider Bluto from “Animal House.” He wound up a senator in the end.
But keep your tie on straight once you land that Hill job. Another misdemeanor could put you in a tough spot once your boss’ name is attached to it, especially if the news winds up in Roll Call. Hopefully your college mistake is a one-time “lesson learned” and you’re on to bigger and better things.
August 8, 2014
It turns out Capitol Hill isn’t without its perks, at least as observed by outsiders.
Hill Navigator received a number of responses on “I Was Told There’d Be Perks” from staffers and would-be staffers arguing that Capitol Hill does, in fact, have perks.
Hill staffers get health insurance, Metro benefits, books from the Library of Congress delivered to their door, underground parking, matching thrift savings plan contributions. There are options for student loan repayment, professional development, even staff trips to far-off places like Alaska or China.
There is a gym for staff, credit unions on both the House and Senate side, and professional organizations like the Office of Compliance that are dedicated to helping staffers out of uncomfortable situations.
So what other “perks” would be missing?
Being a congressional staffer is a great privilege with many benefits. But the traditional “perks” that one asks for — such as more time off, a bigger bonus or travel and entertainment budget — are still not part of the job culture. Rather, expanding responsibilities and knowledge is what most Hill staffers are seeking, including the questioner, and advice was given as such.
But for anyone who feels they need more out of their job on Capitol Hill, you’re right to keep pushing for more responsibilities and ways to learn. What constitutes a “perk” is a matter of perspective, and a rewarding job tends to have quite a few.
Read the original post: I Was Told There’d Be Perks
August 6, 2014
Think Capitol Hill jobs could use a few more perks? Don’t call an UberX just yet. Hill Navigator discusses the tangible benefits of working in Congress.
Q. I’ve been repeatedly asking about a pay increase in my office, but I’m running into a wall because the next most senior staffer in the office makes about the same as me and isn’t actively pursuing a raise. I got a title bump the last time I pushed for a raise, but now I can’t think of any title that I could ask for. What other perks can I ask for? The usual things from other jobs like more time off and working from home privileges seem out of place on the Hill. I want to be here constantly!
A. Never has so much advice been given in the question in which it was asked. You wanted a raise, you got a title bump. You did your homework, you found your salary isn’t likely to move. In your hunt for privileges, you found out you already love your job.
Hill Navigator has something for you: A handshake and congratulations.
You’ve already maneuvered yourself well on Capitol Hill. Your office likes you enough to give you a title change (and hopefully some more responsibilities to go along with it) and you’re now on par with the most senior staffer in your office.
You’re looking for perks and you’re missing the biggest one: Being in an office, and doing good work, in a situation where you can thrive.
But yes, yes, you already knew that. So why won’t Hill Navigator get back to telling you how to maximize your current role with perks?
Because perks aren’t part of the Capitol Hill culture. Titles, information, access to higher-ups and influence within your realm are the currency in which Hill jobs are traded. There is no AmEx or expense account, no glamorous office and private bathroom unless your name is the on the door (and even then, not all are so glamorous, nor private).
Working for the government inherently means you’re working for others, not for profit. Yes, you may get your cell phone bill reimbursed, but you’re not going to have an Delonghi espresso machine anytime soon. No one on Capitol Hill does.
My advice to you: Learn as much as you can, work diligently, and take heart that you’re in an office where you’re so thrilled to be there that more time off isn’t even something you’d enjoy.
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July 31, 2014
U.S. Capitol employees are reporting more claims of discrimination and harassment — a 20 percent increase from the previous year, according to a report released Thursday by the Office of Compliance.
In fiscal 2013, the OOC tallied 164 claims of workplace discrimination and/or harassment from employees working at the Capitol, anyone from a chief of staff to a Capitol Police officer. The 2012 figure was 134 allegations, but the increase is believed to be from more staffers coming forward, not because workplace conditions have changed.
The most common complaints were of discrimination or harassment based on race, followed by sex, gender or pregnancy, then disabilities or age. There were small numbers of allegations based on national origin and religion.
An example of such an allegation could be someone not receiving a promotion because of their gender or age.
“The OOC has prioritized outreach and education this year, so our hope is that the rise in the number of employees contacting our office with these issues [harassment and discrimination] is a byproduct of a more informed workforce,” said Scott Mulligan, deputy executive director of the Office of Compliance.
Claims of discrimination and/or harassment on Capitol Hill have remained relatively constant since 2009, according to the report. Employees who file requests for counseling often allege multiple types of discrimination, though not all employees who receive counseling decide to file formal complaints.
July 29, 2014
Before the age of emails, people would leave nasty voice mails. It was a quick and efficient way to get your message across without having the face-to-face encounter that so many people want to avoid. But now there is email. Don’t like the tone someone takes with a constituent? Put it in email. Saw some errors on that last press release? Fire off an email. Did something go through without your approval? Write that in an email and send it right off.
We’re all sending and receiving mean emails. Yes, some people call these emails “feedback” but let’s call it what it is: An unpleasant message that will likely ruin your day and cause you to whine to your friends that you need a new job, one with a boss who really understands and appreciates you.
Maybe that’s true. But mean emails are a part of life, especially on Capitol Hill, where such unfriendly messages can be the preferred mode of communication. Hill Navigator isn’t here to banish the mean email; we all need feedback, we learn from constructive criticism, and sometimes, even the best of us are just plain wrong. But there are ways to go about writing and receiving mean emails more effectively, which we hope can lead to more harmony for all. Full story
July 23, 2014
Every office has one: The person whom you aren’t quite sure how he landed a job. Or how she graduated college. Or managed to wear matching shoes.
It’s the office fool, the person so ridiculously unwise you can’t understand why he is still employed. But he is, and you have to work with him, even if he doesn’t know how to pronounce “Boehner” or correctly transfer a phone call.
Here’s the thing about fools: They are everywhere. They are elected to Congress, they craft legislation, answer phones, pitch reporters, all the while accidentally deleting your emails and preventing Metro doors from closing.
So how can one handle the swarm of fools ruining the day? Hill Navigator is not here to help banish fools. They are inescapable. If one fool goes away, another will pop in to take her place. But there are better ways to handle someone whose mere presence is an affront to effective offices everywhere. Full story
July 22, 2014
Sometimes it takes time away from D.C. to realize this is where you want to be. But how do you get back on the job market after you return? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. During college I spent a lot of time on campaigns and did two full time internships in D.C., one on the Hill and the other at the [White House.] I joined the Army and have been out of the loop for a couple years, but I am interested in moving back and going to work on the Hill. Does my time away from the Hill help or hurt my chances of joining a staff? Should I be looking at entry level positions?
A. Welcome back. The shiny lure of the Capitol is hard to resist, isn’t it?
As a general guideline, Capitol Hill hiring does tend to favor the straight-shot, college-to-intern-to-staffer line. But not everyone goes that route, nor is it best suited for all cases. There are ways to get back on the Hill even after time away. It just might require some more focus and patience on your end.
Some tips that might help you:
— Start local. Call your local members of Congress and ask for an informational interview. If you find a staffer willing to take time and offer an honest assessment, she can suggest what positions might be ideal for you. Ask for ways you can get involved and if there might be opportunities to put your current skills to work.
— Build up your expertise. Is there an area of policy you’re interested in? Maybe you’ve got a knack for foreign affairs, or want to work on behalf of veterans. It can be tricky to jump straight to the Hill without direct experience, but if you have a level of expertise, you can work in that field and make stronger contacts who can attest to what an asset you’d be in any office.
— Use your existing network. If there were ever a star “excused absence” from politics, it would be the military. Many offices give preferences to veterans while hiring.
— Separate “coming to D.C.” with “working on the Hill.” There are ways to do both simultaneously, but it might be wiser to find an opportunity that is a better fit for you now and maximizes your potential to work on the Hill later. Keep “working on the Hill” as a goal, but recognize there are different ways to get there, just as your own story illustrates.
Have a question for Hill Navigator? Email email@example.com. All submissions will be treated anonymously.
July 21, 2014
Continued from Dads on Capitol Hill: House Paternity Leave Not So Simple
At the recent White House Summit on Working Families, President Barack Obama spoke about the 2 a.m. feedings and soothings when his daughters, Malia and Sasha, were babies. “A whole lot of fathers would love to be home for their new baby’s first weeks,” he said, citing “outdated policies and old ways of thinking” as part of the problem. “The bottom line is 21st century families deserve 21st century workplaces … and that means paid family leave, especially paid parental leave.”
But not all dads are comfortable taking time away from the office — even if that time is paid. “They can pay a price financially for it,” said Scott Behson, a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University who runs the blog Fathers, Work and Family. Behson cites a study from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law that showed men who interrupt their employment for family reasons earn significantly less after returning to work. On Capitol Hill, where face time is at a premium, stepping away for several weeks can be difficult, even with a supportive boss.
But if someone at the top takes paid paternity leave, that can have a positive effect on other staffers. “What your peers do really matters. If the chief of staff will take paid leave, that is when you’re going to get workers to take paid leave,” said Gordon Dahl, an economist at the University of California San Diego who authored a study published this month in The American Economic Review that backs up his point. “You just have to jump start the system somehow.”
Chris Gaston, chief of staff for Democratic Rep. Rush D. Holt of New Jersey, took the full 12 weeks offered to him for the birth of both of his children, Max and Clare. He credits his boss and former chief of staff Jim Papa with creating a culture where dads could take time off without fear of retaliation. When Gaston returned from paternity leave after the birth of his daughter, he was promoted from legislative director to chief of staff.
“I took leave twice and ended up becoming chief of staff, I don’t think it penalized anything,” he said.
Matt Dennis wasn’t used to making reporters wait for a response. But when he was on paternity leave, his newborn son Jonah took priority over his boss, Democratic Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, so he put the BlackBerry aside.
“I was still taking calls, and packaging all the calls and emails for when the baby was sleeping,” said Dennis, now spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Democrats. “The press corps understands. If they were on deadline and I wasn’t able to get back, they knew to go to my chief of staff.”
Dennis was lucky — he received 10 weeks of paid paternity leave. But elsewhere on Capitol Hill, it’s an uphill battle for men who work in the House and want to stay home with their newborn. Leave policies vary widely by office; not all offices have stated policies, and those that do sometimes offer little or no paid leave.
The split is evident within House leadership. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., provides her staffers with 12 weeks paid paternity or maternity leave. Speaker John A. Boehner’s office offers two weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave as part of the national Family Medical Leave Act; the remaining 10 weeks are unpaid, though the Ohio Republican’s staff can use accrued vacation and sick days.
“Congress has, by tradition, delegated the responsibility of setting workplace rules to members themselves so this falls under that,” said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.
July 16, 2014
Interns are busy. Most everyone in D.C. is busy. But as longtime Hill Navigator readers may have noticed, this week we launched the first Roll Call e-book: Best Intern Ever: How to Ace Your Capitol Hill Internship.
It’s a compilation of Hill Navigator’s best advice geared toward acing your internship and turning it into a full-time job.
And for those who want the briefest of briefs, here are the six rules of success. Six rules! Surely that can be easy enough to remember. Internships are finite. There are always more bright-eyed, wannabe staffers ready to take your place, so it’s up to you to make the most of it while you can.
1. Stay professional.
Every year, Roll Call’s Heard on the Hill writes up anecdotes of intern tomfoolery. While there may be egregious exceptions, more often these gaffes are due to inexperience and a lack of basic understanding of what it means to work in a professional setting.
Things to remember:
- Treat every office visitor as a VIP, even if they are just your average Joe from Cincinnati.
- Treat everything connected to the office — email, phone, personal space, midday breaks — as sacrosanct.
- Don’t put anything in email you don’t want to see printed in Roll Call.
- Learn the office dress code (see No. 3) and err on the conservative side of following it.
- Brush up on your manners. Yes, it’s arcane, but it works wonders. Hold the door for the person behind you, say ‘thank you,” kindly ask if you can put a person on hold before slamming the phone down. Such things can go a long way toward showing you’re a capable team member, hopefully one the office wants to keep around.
2. Check your opinions at the door.
You may be majoring in political science, or have read everything Thomas Friedman ever wrote, but your personal opinions are usually best left unsaid. Sure, you can echo your enthusiasm for a cause your boss is championing, or include your admiration in your thank-you notes to the hard-working legislative staff, but you’re there to help advance your boss’ current agenda, not help him or her craft a new one.
If you’re curious about a particular topic— say Affordable Care Act regulations are a particular passion of yours — get to know the legislative assistant covering the issue and ask for reading recommendations or even a few minutes of their time for coffee. View your internship as a time to take in information, not spew out opinions.
And when you do air your opinions— even if they are just about how fantastic that office Keurig is — be smart about your surroundings. Those Metro cars are tiny, voices travel. If you insist on talking about work in a public place, refrain from mentioning the boss’ name or any other identifying details, lest you want to read about them in Roll Call.
3. Learn, memorize, internalize and follow the office dress code.
Ignore the smirks on staffers’ faces, Hill Navigator knows that this isn’t the no-brainer that experienced hands assume it is. Dress codes are not always as obvious or natural as it would seem, especially because many interns are in college and do not have extensive work-appropriate wardrobes. The yoga pants and sweatshirt combo might be fine for Econ 301, but Capitol Hill has a “sun’s out-suit’s out” mentality.
The dress code matters.
Speaker John A. Boehner’s announced policy for the 113th Congress states that staffers must be in “appropriate business attire” on the House floor, so this ups the ante on how staffers dress on a daily basis. Most offices have dress codes and will happily answer your questions about what to wear. Some stellar offices even have intern handbooks that address this directly. But just in case you aren’t sure or are reluctant to ask, here are some general guidelines that can help get you off to a good start.
- Wear a suit the first day of work. Even if it’s recess. Or Friday. Or hot outside. Your first day sets the tone of your internship, and a suit shows you’re taking it seriously.
- Wear a suit (or jacket and tie, or blazer/slacks/skirt for ladies) every day Congress is in session.
- Dress up every day the boss is in town. Most offices have a relaxed dress code when Congress is out of session, but if the boss is there, take the extra time to dress in business clothing.
- Follow the office’s lead. Don’t be the first one to wear jeans or break out into casual Friday polo shirts unless you see your co-workers doing the same thing. And by co-workers, I don’t mean other interns. Take the cues from the higher-ups in the office.
- Cover up. Keep the short skirts and deep v-neck shirts at home. If you aren’t sure whether it’s office appropriate, it probably isn’t.
- Stay away from jeans, sneakers, T-shirts and yoga pants. No matter how casual Fridays get, you’re better off in khakis or dress pants than something more comfortable. Wait for the weekends to wear whatever you want. Or wait until your internship is over.
4. Ask this question: What is the office’s social media policy?
Social media: so fun, so ubiquitous and yet, it can be so detrimental to careers everywhere. Right after asking about the dress code, request a copy of the office social media policy. And then — like the dress code — err on the conservative side of following it.
“One of the great fears of senior managers in Congress is waking up one day and finding a junior staffer or intern has thrust the office into a crisis because of some silly posting on social media,” said Brad Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to helping Congress.
Even privacy settings can’t always protect you if you’re posting items while you are at work, or including details — however inane — about your job. Remember that many members of Congress face re-election every two years, races that often cost millions of dollars, and opposition researchers are always looking for material, especially in an election year.
5. Have meaningful — and realistic — expectations.
Setting achievable goals is one of the best ways to have a positive internship experience, but expecting that you will write legislation, staff the senator or field press calls is setting yourself up for disappointment.
“Interns should understand they’re being tested early on,” Fitch said. “[They] won’t get any valuable work or experience if they don’t do the little stuff right. The smart ones excel at the grunt work and graduate up from ‘boring’ to ‘mildly interesting.’”
Hill Navigator would argue that even the mundane task of making coffee in a congressional office can be interesting; many offices have chatty back rooms. If you find yourself in one of those, you can pick up everything from legislative procedure to after-hours gossip while you’re acing your tasks at the copy machine.
And if your expectations include a paying job at the end of the term, you have all the more reason to excel at the small stuff, as many staff assistants pick up the grunt work once the interns have departed.
6. Have humility, in large doses.
This particular piece of advice is courtesy of many current and former Hill staffers: Do good work, but don’t tell us all about it. You don’t need to hang that marked-up constituent letter at your cube, or brag about how you’re the only one who can navigate Cannon’s fifth floor.
Every Hill office knows which interns are competent. In the frenetic, fast-paced world of Capitol Hill, people who get things done are easy to spot. You may not see it, but it might as well be tattooed on your forehead. Just make sure you’ve got some appropriate business clothes to match your go-get-’em attitude.
July 14, 2014
To the Interns:
Each internship is a job interview unto itself — a chance to work hard and prove yourself indispensable. It’s one of the best ways to land a paid, full-time job, and some consider interning a rite of passage in the journey of becoming a true staffer.
But too many people have misconceptions about interns, and reduce them to punchlines of jokes. Hill Navigator has personally worked with some outstanding Capitol Hill interns. Yes, there was the occasional knucklehead, but more often than not, these are young people getting their first professional experience in the high-energy setting of a congressional office.
So rather than dedicating a column to lambasting the interns for standing on the wrong side of the metro escalators and wearing their ID badges to the Hawk ‘n’ Dove, we want to help. That’s why we put together Roll Call’s first ever e-book. We’ve collected information about the best ways to succeed while interning, and how to turn that internship into a full-time paid position on Capitol Hill or in Washington.
July 8, 2014
Like your job? But what if there is something out there even better for you — fancier title, higher tax bracket, maybe even a MacBook Air? How do you decide when to leave a good job for something that could be better? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I’m working in my second Hill office and I know from experience and talking to friends that I’ve been very lucky to work in two offices with amazing bosses. My personal interests, the priorities of my boss, and the issues I work on all align, on top of me fitting in with the personality and character of our entire office. Prior to my last move I was trying to move up to a legislative director position, but fell short. A few more years on and I feel like I could try to jump to another office to become an LD, but the downside is leaving an office that I feel was designed to perfectly fit me. My current boss isn’t going away (knock on wood), and is moving up in seniority on our committees quickly. I’ve been trying to figure out the odds of people above me moving on, but I’m not sure how to bring that up without being too precocious. What’s the more dangerous career move: Sticking around in a good office too long and not moving up, or making a move to somewhere where I might not fit perfectly but at least my title and pay is moving up?
A. Hill Navigator admires your ambition: You’re in a good job now and you’re looking for something even better. But what you’re asking is akin to reading tea leaves. Will an amazing opportunity come in your current office or is there a better one someplace else?
The answer, sadly, is no one knows. Your boss could get nominated to the president’s cabinet or resign in scandal. Even the most established member of Congress could decide to run for Senate, or suddenly retire for a better gig on K street. (They — like you — are curious about what a better job might offer.) Opportunities such as these have promoted (and befallen) many Hill staffers. The problem is you don’t know when your next job is going to strike platinum, so let’s focus on what you do know.
1) You like your job. Always a good place to start. Presumably, with a good job comes good people, ones you can talk to about your future and find ways in which you can expand your responsibilities, which will help your hirability well into the future.
2) You will never fit perfectly. Even if there is a new great office that brings in bagels every Friday or is closed the entire month of August, it will never be the perfect fit. Don’t focus too intently on the small fissures in your job. There will always be a foolish co-worker, nagging boss, or micromanaging scheduler who bothers you. Stick to the big picture when evaluating how well a job works.
3) It’s not an all or nothing proposition. You can enjoy and thrive in your current job while still keeping your ear to the ground for other possibilities. Informational interviews are always effective, even if you aren’t looking to make an immediate move. Having coffee with contacts is far better than reading about their life changes on Facebook. Things change quickly. Good bosses leave and bad ones get promoted. The goal is to get as much out of your current job as you can but have a few tethers out in case you decide (or someone decides for you) that you need to leave.
Have a question for Hill Navigator? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will be treated anonymously.