Last One Out…

This week has been a big one for congressional retirements (Coburn, McCarthy, McKeon, McIntyre, Moran, Owens).  Many we have heard about, including half a dozen Members, for various reasons but at least one columnist has speculated that it is the working conditions.  Other departures have been more quiet as three senior House Appropriations Committee staffers have decided enough is enough (pages H438 and H441).

This is exactly the type of brain drain I discussed in earlier posts about how the changes in the health care system for Members and staff treat them differently than every other citizen of our country.

But that is not all that is driving many to the exits.  In talking to some of my executive branch students this week, the only two factors keeping them in government service is the weak economy (which limits non-government career choices) and the hope for buyout packages.  If and when the economy starts to pick up I predict you will see an exodus of those in the federal government who actually get the work done.

While this year saw a 1% cost of living increase for federal workers that is the first one in four years.  Considering that the overall FY15 budget number negotiated in December calls for a flat budget, I don’t expect another increase any time soon.

But a recent report by the Congressional Management Foundation showed that senior congressional staffers are less satisfied and more likely to leave than in any time in the past.

All of this points to a Congress where the working conditions are not conducive to obtaining and retaining the best and most experienced talent.  If this trend continues, Members and staff will be forced to rely more heavily on those that have the knowledge and experience – the lobbyist class.

The FY15 budget cycle will move more smoothly because the total amount of spending is already known.  But don’t expect that to be the beginning of a new renaissance of congressional budget acumen.  For FY16 and beyond it will be just as messy as the last two years (if not worse) and you can thank part of the problem on the continued pillorying of Congress by its own Members, driving experienced Members and staff to the exits.

Mark Harkins is a Senior Fellow at the Government Affairs Institute

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