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Key Budgeting Questions for Freshman Members

Opening a new congressional office is a difficult task for freshman legislators. You will be forced to develop a budget with little staff support, relevant information, or time. New Members and their limited staff must consider the most effective ways to allocate their money while considering the possibility of future budget cuts.

When opening a new congressional office you must first state your mission or purpose while in office and identify the resources you will have to support that mission. These resources are given to you by Congress and, most importantly, paid for by the American taxpayer. House Members are allocated approximately $1.4 million annually, while Senators are allocated between $3 million to $4.7 million depending on state population. CMF analysis shows that first-term House Members in 2011 spent an average of 82% of their allowances, which amounts to approximately $258,858 less than they were allocated.

As a freshman you must consider six key questions when developing your mission and identifying the resources that will support that mission. These key questions are:

  1. What is the fundamental orientation of your office when considering work emphases, district/state needs, the political realities within your district/state, and the allocation of staff and resources?
  2. What commitments and campaign promises have you made, such as specific salaries, opening of district/state offices, or levels of communication with constituents?
  3. Do constituents have expectations of you based on your predecessor’s past practices?
  4. What expectations do you have of yourself, your staff, or levels of media attention and visibility?
  5. To what extent do you intend to use outreach mail as a means of communication with your constituents?
  6. Do you intend to spend your entire allowance on office expenses or do you want to report that you returned a substantial amount of unspent funds at the end of the year?

Considering these questions can help you avoid potential pitfalls, such as overspending, media scrutiny of your expenditures, and spending your resources on the wrong things. To guide you through the process of creating a first-year budget that accurately reflects your goals and priorities, CMF has summarized our advice on "Developing a Freshman Budget.”

If you are successful with your budgeting process you will not only appear responsible in the eyes of constituents and the media, you will be able to successfully and efficiently navigate any future cuts to congressional operations.

We at CMF wish the 113th Congress the best for the upcoming congressional cycle and are here to support you with whatever requests you may have when setting up and running your congressional office.

 
 
 

ABOUT CMF

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CMF is a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to helping Congress and its Members meet the evolving needs and expectations of an engaged and informed 21st century citizenry.

Our work focuses on improving congressional operations and enhancing citizen engagement through research, publications, training, and management services.

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Communicating with Congress The Internet forever changed how citizens and Congress interacts. The goal of this project is to facilitate a more meaningful democratic dialogue.

 

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Gold Mouse Project
Congress should effectively communicate with and serve citizens online. CMF assesses congressional websites to identify best and innovative practices that can be more widely adopted by the House and Senate.

 

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Inside the Hill
Produced by Founding Partner Fleishman-Hillard, this video series allows you to hear directly from Members and staff on how technology is changing the way Congress works.

 

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Life in Congress
This novel research project by CMF and the Society for Human Resource Management has two goals: identify the factors that motivate congressional staff and shed some light on Congress as a workplace.

 

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21st Century Town Hall Meetings CMF seeks to continue our innovative work in this area by conducting comparative research on in-person town halls, online town halls, and telephone town halls.