In Is Congress Broken? The Virtues and Defects of Partisanship and Gridlock, we make the case for improving the deliberative abilities of the legislative branch. Those abilities have taken a hit in recent years.
Less discussed in a conversation about U.S. government personnel is the legislative branch, where Congress also relies on a large staff to support its operations. These staffs include those of members of Congress and congressional committees, as well as of multiple support agencies that provide Congress with non-partisan, expert information, such as the Congressional Budget Office. Chapter 5 of the most recent update of Vital Statistics on Congress examines how the staff rolls of those offices and agencies have fared over time. Across a number of tables, the picture painted of the workforce tasked with conducting the business of Congress is a bleak one. Notably, the staffs of three support agencies – the Congressional Research Service, the Government Accountability Office, and the Congressional Budget Office, have lost 45 percent of their combined staffs from 1975 to 2015.
So what is happening here? Are some of the growing responsibilities of these independent agencies being taken up by growing congressional staffs elsewhere? As outlined in Table 5-1 of Vital Statistics on Congress, that’s not likely. Total staff levels across all congressional offices have either been shrinking or staying relatively stagnant over the last three decades. At the same time, the responsibilities of each member of Congress are increasing with the country’s ever-growing population. On average, each member of the House represents roughly 200,000 more constituents today than they did 30 years ago, while the average Senator represents 1.6 million more.