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Managing Changes in Budgets and Benefits

The U.S. Congress has experienced many changes to its operations in the last few years. Office budgets have been cut significantly, government shutdowns (or the threat of a shutdown) have affected performance and delivery of services, and the transition to healthcare exchanges has required thousands of employees to alter health insurance benefits. In sum, these changes represent the most significant changes to congressional operations in a generation.

To help offices manage these changes, CMF conducted a survey of senior congressional staff on their impact. CMF surveyed House and Senate Chiefs of Staff and District/State Directors from November 18 – December 6, 2013, and received a total of 163 responses (a 15% response rate). The resulting data was presented to senior managers in a one-hour webinar that discussed the findings, their implications to offices, and options for managers to address and manage these changes.


Key Findings

Overview

CMF surveyed senior congressional staff on the impact in the last few years resulting from: reductions in office budgets, furloughs, government shutdown, and the transition of healthcare benefits. The results indicate that the cuts in congressional office budgets and transitioning staff to a new healthcare benefit structure could lead to a significant number of staff departures.

Quotes from Staff

The open-ended answers included a few positive comments from managers, noting that morale continued to be strong and that some younger staff were benefitting financially from the healthcare transition. But the overwhelming majority of open-ended responses were negative.

  • "This is a business. And we keep punishing ourselves by eliminating the tools necessary to run our businesses properly."
  • "The elimination of staff's traditional health care has been a complete disaster. If you wanted a legislative branch run by K Street lobbyists and 25 year-old staffers, Mission Accomplished."

Retaining Staff

Senior managers were asked: "Given the past and potential changes in budgets and benefits, how likely do you think the following could contribute to staffers leaving your office?"

  • "Salary freezes" was identified by 82% of the respondents as likely or very likely to lead to staff departures, and 79% identified "Changes to health care benefits" as likely or very likely.

Congressional managers also indicated they are exploring a range of options to retain staff. The strategies managers noted they are likely or very likely to use include:

  • Engaging in "activities to boost office morale (e.g., spot awards, public recognition, time with Senator/Representative, etc.)" (71%);
  • Providing "more professional development opportunities" to staff (60%);
  • Giving "bonuses to targeted staff" (49%);
  • Giving "salary increases to targeted staff" (44%);
  • Adjusting "office goals and priorities to focus on the most critical work" (44%).

The survey also asked, "How likely is it that you will, by choice, look for a job outside of your current office in the next 12 months?"

  • Those answering likely or very likely totaled 38%. CMF asked an identical question in 2011 of the same staff demographic group in Congress and 30% had similar responses.

Addressing Work Environment

The survey also explored the potential for job burnout among staff. Many offices have reduced staff size either through layoffs or attrition, requiring remaining staff to take on additional responsibilities.

  • When asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement, "Job burnout is a significant problem in my office," 40% of senior managers agreed with that statement.

The 2013 survey also posed some questions identical to those posed in an August 2011 survey conducted by CMF and the Society for Human Resource Management.

  • In the 2011 survey, 30% of senior managers agreed with the statement, "I have too much to do to do everything well." In the 2013 survey, in response to the same question, 62% of the respondents agreed with the same statement.

On the positive side, only 26% of managers reported that "morale is low" in their offices.

Healthcare Benefits Transition

Senior managers also reported staff concerns about the transition to healthcare exchanges:

  • 91% reported their staff was "worried about possible changes in health benefits"
  • 87% reported their staff was "worried about the cost of health insurance"
  • 82% reported their staff was "worried about the ability to access local health care providers"

(NOTE: One possible explanation for these numbers is that this survey was conducted while congressional staff members were still receiving initial briefings on the healthcare exchanges.)

 
 
 

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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