The number and types of congressional offices can be overwhelming for people new to Capitol Hill. The purpose of the various congressional offices is to provide logistical, political and substantive support for members of Congress.
Each member of Congress has an individual office, known as their personal office. In addition, they also have at least one office within their home state or district. Members who hold key leadership or committee leadership positions have additional staff and offices within the congressional complex.
The House office buildings are located on the south side of the Capitol. They include Rayburn, Longworth, Cannon, and Ford. The Senate office buildings are located on the north side of the Capitol building. They include Russell, Dirksen and Hart. (Map here.)
The average House offices features nine staffers while the average Senate office has 22 staffers. Five of those staffers are typically devoted to handling and responding to constituent mail.
Senate and House personal offices are usually issue oriented and address a wide range of issues and inquiries that are often politically focused. Committee offices are usually substance oriented and focused on particular issues. As a result, committee staffers often have more subject matter expertise.
The organizational structure for personal offices on the Hill varies based on the emphasis of the member on certain functions. For instance, a press secretary might report to the chief of staff or directly to the member of Congress, depending upon their relationship with that member.
The chief of staff is usually the most senior staffer within a Washington personal office. The highest ranking committee staffer is usually known as the staff director. In most instances, committees are divided into majority and minority staffs that include separate staff directors, offices and staff.
In many ways, the 535 congressional offices can be viewed as small independent companies that each deal with their own organizational structures and staffing issues. All offices may share some common attributes, but each can have their own unique features as well. While experience and background levels can vary, in most cases, the staff in congressional offices are recruited from their member’s home state. The only exception to this occurs with more senior positions, in which there is likely to be more varied experience. Senior staffers have often previously worked in another member’s office.
To learn more about how congressional offices are organized and run, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1-day course, Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill and their 3-day Capitol Hill Workshop.
Reference: Lobbying and Advocacy, by Deanna Gelak, Chapter 4 Understanding Government Institutions and Process
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