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What Do Congressional Staff Actually Know?

What Do Congressional Staff Actually Know?

Chapter:
(p.94) 6 What Do Congressional Staff Actually Know?
Source:
Congress Overwhelmed
Author(s):
Kristina C. Miler
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226702605.003.0006

This chapter examines what congressional staff know about substantive policies and procedure in order to better understand Congress’s policymaking capacity. It argues that poorly informed staff members are more likely to rely on shortcuts, or heuristics, when making decisions during the legislative process. As a result, some staff are more likely to take cues from party leaders, lobbyists, or the executive branch instead of relying on their own assessment of the situation. Drawing on new data from the Congressional Capacity Survey, this chapter evaluates a number of common preconceptions about Congress, including committee expertise, party polarization, and the gender gap. It reveals that staff members’ knowledge varies considerably and, on average, is lower than commonly assumed. Key sources of variation include staff specialization and retention, both of which contribute to higher levels of policy knowledge and should be promoted as part of reforms. The chapter also reveals discrepancies in procedural knowledge with more partisan staff, as well as male staff, demonstrating greater familiarity with chamber rules and procedures. To increase congressional capacity, staff knowledge needs to be improved and equalized, which will allow Congress to work with other actors from a position of strength, not deference.

Keywords:   congressional staff, policy knowledge, procedural knowledge, expertise, specialization, gender gap, heuristics, congressional committees, congressional capacity, Congressional Capacity Survey

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