Study: House Dems edge out GOP at retaining staff

House Democrats are slightly better than their Republican colleagues at retaining staff, according to a study from the Sunlight Foundation.

Sunlight compared records from 2009 and 2011 to calculate staff-retention rates for every member of the House. Those records showed an average retention rate of 65.7 percent for Democrats, and 62.5 percent for Republicans.   

The study found the lowest turnover for Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), who kept 15 out of 16 staffers for a retention rate of 93.8 percent. The highest turnover rate was found for Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), who lost all but four staffers for a retention rate of 19 percent. 

The watchdog noted that there are a number of factors that affect staff retention. House “offices who wish to retain more staff can pay better,” and there is a statistically significant, positive relationship between “member’s seniority and staff turnover rate,” according to Sunlight’s Lee Drutman.

At the rate of 64.2 percent, the foundation estimated the “average House office to turn over fully within three sessions of Congress.”

“Offices with less experienced staff and less institutional knowledge will generally be less competent,” Drutman stated in his analysis. “This makes it harder for members to execute their legislative priorities and makes them more likely to rely on lobbyists and special interests for guidance. It may also make it more difficult for offices to adequately serve constituent needs."

Even though Republicans held a lower overall retention rate, the foundation found that GOP lawmakers had a higher staffer retention rate for policy positions. Republicans kept approximately 79.5 percent of their policy staffers, versus 72.3 percent for Democrats.

House committee offices had a harder time keeping staff.

Broken down by committee, the Joint Committee on Taxation retained the most staffers, with a rate of 82.4 percent, while the House Natural Resources Committee retained the least, with a rate of 35.9 percent.

“Some turnover in all offices is certainly healthy and natural. … But too much turnover can be a dangerous thing, too,” Drutman said.