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Many twenty-something congressional aides, often in their first post-college jobs, work for low wages, lack job security and must deal with demanding bosses.

Certain lawmakers have acquired reputations for how they treat their staffs. Capitol Hill aides say that Reps. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.), Brian Baird (D-Wash.), Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) stand out for either abruptly firing or suspending aides.
Many twenty-something congressional aides, often in their first post-college jobs, work for low wages, lack job security and must deal with demanding bosses.

Certain lawmakers have acquired reputations for how they treat their staffs. Capitol Hill aides say that Reps. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.), Brian Baird (D-Wash.), Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) stand out for either abruptly firing or suspending aides.
PATRICK G. RYAN
Rep. Karen McCarthy (D-Mo.) threatened to fire her staff after the election.

McCarthy threatened to fire her staff after the election because there would be little to no work to do after November. The lawmaker subsequently decided not to fire her staff.

While many other departing members have shuttered their offices to let staff look for new jobs, McCarthy demanded that her six remaining aides produce a constituent newsletter, a time-consuming and expensive process.

McCarthy’s aides, working in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building, are not permitted to talk to reporters. Judd Crapa, McCarthy’s chief of staff, said: “Our office policy is not to comment on personnel matters.”

Sources said her staff was worried about an expected meeting yesterday with an adviser who helps her manage congressional office finances. McCarthy had been expected to decide whether to fire those six staffers or keep them on the payroll until Jan. 2.

Last month, McCarthy lashed out at an aide for the ensuing negative press coverage that followed a rebuke by the House ethics committee.

Baird also has a reputation for being tough on his aides. Last month, he was handing out year-end bonuses to some staffers when he met with a legislative assistant to offer both praise and a pink slip.

Baird’s office and the fired aide declined to comment, but sources told The Hill that Baird informed the staffer that many Democrats had lost their jobs and that he could find another to do the job with a lower salary.

According to House records compiled by the chief administrative officer (CAO), the aide earned less than $7,500 for the first quarter of 2004. Baird dismissed the aide Dec. 2 so that he did not have to pay her for the entire month.

Several people listed in the CAO’s report in the first quarter of this year no longer work for Baird today. Lisa Boyd, the current chief of staff, is a former aide to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). Baird reportedly fired a longtime aide in his district office when a local newspaper mentioned her, among a slew of prospective candidates, for an open state Senate seat.

“I feel bad for these people. It’s just not right. They’re smart, and they work hard. And they’re getting fired,” a House Democratic aide said.

Certain Republicans also are known for their unusual hiring and firing practices.

Having won a tight election, Murkowski asked all of her aides to resign in a move to get rid of some of the older aides who had worked for her father. A Murkowski spokesman told The Hill the senator was still interviewing prospective hires. He said Murkowski wanted to shift more of the office’s resources to Alaska.

This spring, McCotter suspended two aides without pay for having cocktails in a leadership office. He does not permit aides to drink alcohol at work-related events.

Bob Jackson, McCotter’s spokesman, declined to comment. McCotter has employed four chiefs of staff during his first term in office. Asked for comment, McCotter indicated that the only way to learn about his intraoffice politics is to join his staff.

James Thurber, an expert on congressional management at American University, said that while there is great variance in how congressional offices are managed, several factors contribute to difficult work environments on the Hill.

“[Lawmakers] don’t know anything about management, and they don’t have a lot of money [to hire] staff. Therefore, they get young people. There is frustration between the member who knows little about management and young staffers who have high expectations,” he said.