With so much focus on the presidential faceoff in November, it can be easy to forget that the executive branch is only one-third of the US government. Regardless of the presidential victor, there are sure to be significant shake-ups in Congress, where all 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs.
Right now, those aspiring representatives are fixated on November 6, and rightly so. But once they’re voted into office—indeed, that very week—they will need to begin the arduous process of transitioning into a foreign role.
That’s where Executive-in-Residence Meredith Persily Lamel comes in. As the former Director of Training and Consulting for the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), she facilitated 30 retreats annually for House and Senate offices, and ran numerous leadership and management training programs.
Newly elected members of Congress especially seek her expertise, as they arrive at the Capitol from divergent professional backgrounds. They don’t always have extensive experience managing day-to-day business operations, including office staff and payroll.
Determine Your Overall Goals
| Make Decisions About Personal Circumstances
|| Informal Lobbying for Committee Assignments
Determine your office management structure
| See what technology you have inherited from your district predecessor, and determine remaining technological needs
Contact predecessor’s staff to discuss transition and request documents.
Complete the Hiring of
Finalize your First-Year
| Establish District and/or State Offices
Hire Additional Office Staff
Open the first district state office
“Meredith brought the skills she developed in the private sector and applied them to the congressional environment,” said Bradford Fitch, CMF’s president and CEO. “We’re always looking for ways to put her in front of senior managers in Congress.”
And this year’s election is particularly ripe for congressional transition, due to recent redistricting that was carried out to reflect the results of the 2010 Census. These changes in district representation, combined with the retirement of 42 House incumbents and the possibility of a party switch in the Oval Office, mean that there will be a great many handoffs in the House. Even victorious incumbents may have staff movement if they are granted different committee assignments requiring outside expertise.
States such as New York (-2) and Ohio (-2) will lose seats in the House, while Texas (+4) and Florida (+2) will gain seats. Others will retain the same total number of representatives, but redistricting within the states has many predicting that the partisan divide will shift in favor of the Republicans (North Carolina, Indiana) or Democrats (Maryland, California), according to the Cook Political Report as of June 2012.
• Promotes interests of own party, seeks to move up party structure
• Interested in big picture rather than details of legislation, skilled at organizing and strategizing, excellent media/communication skills
• Sees the interests of constituents as primary concern; receives high visibility back home but less in Washington
• More service-minded than ideologically minded; interested in tangible outcomes rather than broad policy questions
• Influences process by influencing debate through rhetoric and criticism, promotes change or new approaches, wants to be viewed as bold and honest
• Comfortable operating independently, outspoken and often risk-taking, does not enjoy courting colleagues
Courtesy of the Congressional Management Foundation
Persily Lamel recognizes that up until Election Day, all that matters is getting elected. Yet while the natural inclination of members-elect may be to take November and December to relax after a hard-fought campaign, they need to make the most of the transition period.
The critical first step for incoming freshmen is to nail down their priorities. Determining their overall goals will help answer the logistical questions that must be addressed in the weeks leading up to the day they assume office.
Incoming freshmen need to deal with relocation to DC, and then quickly start informal lobbying for prime committee assignments and acclimating to the congressional environment. Hiring a core staff to begin serving constituents is very important.
But members should be careful not to over-hire too quickly, even if it means starting their terms short-staffed. The CMF guidebook Setting Course, first developed as a joint publication with American University, explains that while a core staff should be hired in November and December, the remainder should be hired only “when you have finalized your goals, understand your budget, and have the time and resources necessary to hire the right candidates.” In many cases, this does not occur until late April or early May.
The key is to be politically savvy early on, according to Persily Lamel. The congressional schedule can be merciless, so new members need to be ready to serve their constituents as soon as the election is over. If not, they may be headed back home in just two short years.