Reforming Congress: Historical trends in congressional staffing

The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, U.S., February 26, 2019.      REUTERS/Jim Young - RC1480115B00

On March 27, 2019, Brookings Senior Fellow Molly Reynolds testified before the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress in a hearing titled “Congressional Reforms of the Past and Their Effect on Today’s Congress.” Reynolds used her testimony to brief lawmakers on the history of congressional staffing trends and the political context of previous staffing reform efforts.

Citing political science research and data from the Brookings Vital Statistics on Congress project, Reynolds highlighted the following observations:

  1. Congress has long debated and disagreed about the staffing resources necessary to solve complex policy problems and perform sufficient oversight of the executive branch.
  2. When considering reforms to staffing, lawmakers’ goals often conflict over issues, such as who should control the staff selection process and how much freedom members should have to allocate their personal staffing resources.
  3. The choices that produced current staffing patterns cannot be isolated from the political circumstances that motivated reform such as electoral politics, budget process reform, and changes in party control.

Reynolds concluded her testimony by encouraging the members of the committee to draw useful lessons from past reform efforts to inspire debate and form consensus.

To read her full testimony, click here.