Loose Lips

Committee Staff Should Not Be Political Hires

Here's an idea: committee staffers on the D.C. Council shouldn't be political hires.

Currently, each councilmember gets to hire the staff of their respective committees. This set up can lead to all sorts of headaches, as illustrated yesterday when Council Chairman Kwame "Fully Loaded" Brown reshuffled several committee assignments. Now Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh's committee staff will have to transition from government operations issues to transporation and public works issues. Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser's committee will have to drop what they know about parks and recreation and learn all about government ops. And Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells' committee staff will have to forget all about transportation and public works and begin working on parks and recreation issues. (There's even a possibility that one of Wells' committee staffers might be let go because the parks committee has a smaller budget, says a Wells staffer.)

As Wells noted yesterday when he was being taken to the woodshed, it takes committee staff a few months to get up to speed on their respective issues. Big changes like the ones we saw yesterday disrupt that learning curve and put the council behind. (That's not to say that there aren't tremendously bright committee staffers. You know who you are.)

An alternative setup is found in Montgomery County, where the county council has a staff director who hires and fires committee staff outside of political considerations. This means that committee staffers stay put when there's a change in officeholders, and often stay on the job for many many years, allowing them to become experts in their field.

It also means, presumably, that they can be clear-eyed and objective in their work without worrying (as much) about the consequences of drafting a report or making a recommendation that will anger a particular politician. One council employee told LL yesterday that Brown's punishment of Wells is bound to affect the work of committee staffers, who will have in the back of their mind that they could lose their jobs if their bosses anger Brown.

There's plus and minuses to both arrangements, of course, but it seems the more you can take politics out of type of yeoman's work expected from council committee staff, the better.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anc4c09/ Joseph Martin

    Speaking as a former Hill staffer (for Barney Frank) and also as someone with several years of experience as a lobbyist and analyst around the Massachusetts Legislature, I would say the ideal would be a mix. You want to have committee staffers who are seasoned in the substance of the committee's work. You also need to have some to keep an eye out on the boss' back politically, and I mean that in the best ways.

    Back in the early 90s when the public demanded terms limits, I argued that term limits would give professional staff, lobbyists and the public relations world enormous power and leave us with Members of Congress who are extremely limited in knowledge and experience.

    I recall a now powerful member of the U.S. House, then a new Member, cupping his/her mouth, looking at me during a mark-up of the (now) House Financial Services Committee, mouthing. "How do I vote?"

    Loyalty is important. Loyalty is also a two-way street when it works best. It is also good to have elected officials who listen to their staffers when the boss is beginning to get out of touch. That's another story for another day or maybe it's a script we have already seen play out recently. ; )

  • Denise Wiktor

    This is not a new idea. I think it was Appleseed that proposed it years ago. One of the reasons that Committee staff was separated from the Council offices when they moved from 441 into the Wilson building.

  • Southeast Ken

    Joseph Martin, who do you work for now? Are you trying to get a job at the Wislon Buildig or in the D.C. Government? ANC's don't pay a salary.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anc4c09/ Joseph Martin

    Southeast Ken, remind us of your real name. Thanks.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/anc4c09/ Joseph Martin

    To answer your question, here's an example of one recent project:

    I am back in the line of work (film/network television/still photo shoots) that engaged me between Capitol Hill and getting hired by the Williams and Fenty administrations.

    It remains an honor to serve as an unpaid ANC Commissioner in Petworth.

  • please help us

    JOE Martin first worked for Fenty then ward 4 coordinator for Bowser/Fenty.

    Ken he is lighting up the ward 4 list in favor of Bowser already...no offense Joe but you know you are. He is a great ANC though, but Bowser has got to go!

    When I read Bowser's staff will have to drop all they know about parks and rec...LMAO it will be a short drop because they knew NOTHING! They did NOTHING!

  • Unintended Irony

    Oh, the irony!

    Southeast Ken states on the Christopher Barry drug story blog:

    "Cowards hide behind computers saying how they truly feel in their hearts about other human beings."

  • Drez

    Joe Martin was first hired into DC Gov under Williams, not Fenty.

  • Message2U

    Tommy Wells was in way over his head with the public works committee,thats not even mentioning the metro board, He new absolutely nothing about public works and was totally relying on William Howland to give him direction, this would have been a total disaster to the citizens because Howland is being looked into now about some of his misgivings. Wells will probably thank Kwame later on for removing him from that situation.