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:
- 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?
- What commitments and campaign promises have you made, such as specific salaries, opening of district/state offices, or levels of communication with constituents?
- Do constituents have expectations of you based on your predecessor’s past practices?
- What expectations do you have of yourself, your staff, or levels of media attention and visibility?
- To what extent do you intend to use outreach mail as a means of communication with your constituents?
- 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.