Exploring this Job
An extremely valuable—but highly competitive—learning opportunity is to work as a page. Pages serve members of the Senate (the House of Representatives closed its program in 2011). According to the U.S. Senate's page Web site, "Senate page duties consist primarily of delivery of correspondence and legislative material within the Congressional complex. Other duties include preparing the chamber for Senate sessions, and carrying bills and amendments to the desk. Pages attend classes in the early morning at the United States Senate Page School." The length of a page's service varies from one summer to one year. Applicants must be high school juniors and at least 16 years old. Contact your state's senators for an application.
You can also gain some insight into the work of a congressional aide through local efforts: volunteer for various school committees, take an active part in clubs, and become involved in school government. Campaigns for local elections rely a lot on volunteers, so find out about ways you can support your favorite candidate. Keep a close watch over current events by reading newspapers and news magazines. With an understanding of current issues, you can take a stand and express your opinions to your local, state, and federal representatives. An annual publication called the Congressional Yellow Book (https://www.leadershipconnect.io/products/print-leadership-directories) contains the addresses, phone numbers, and biographical information for members of Congress and their aides. You can use this directory to express your views on an issue to your representatives. By contacting your Congress members' offices, you'll be talking to congressional aides and learning something about their responsibilities. Check your local library for a copy of this publication.
Congressional aides see the lawmaking process at work—sometimes right on the Senate floor where laws are made. They work for important lawmakers, briefing them on legislation. The members of Congress (senators and representatives) rely on aides to assist with their responsibilities. Many constituents (the voters who elected members to Congress) expect aides to help them make their voices and opinions heard. Aides answer letters, e-mails, and phone calls, and distribute information to keep Congress members and the people they represent updated on the issues of national and local concern.
In the office of a senator or representative, aides either serve on a personal or committee staff. A basic difference between the two types of staff is that the committee staffs are more strictly concerned with work that involves the construction and passage of legislation, while the personal staffs also deal with matters concerning the home state. Personal aides are generally loyal supporters of their members of Congress and their political philosophies. But this doesn't mean that aides don't sometimes have differing views. In some cases, aides may be more familiar with an issue and the general opinions of the constituents concerning an issue than the member of Congress. An aide's opinion can have an impact on a Congress member's decision.
The most important aide to a Congress member is the chief of staff, or administrative assistant. Those who achieve this position have experience working closely with a Congress member and have gained his or her trust and respect. The Congress member relies on the chief of staff 's or administrative assistant's opinion and understanding of politics, legislation, and individual bills when making decisions. These aides also oversee the work of the other congressional aides.
Office managers handle the actual running of the office. They attend to the management of office clerical staff, which includes hiring, staff scheduling, and other personnel matters. In addition to administrative assistant secretaries who provide clerical support to the chief of staff, a congressional staff also includes personal secretaries. They attend to the Congress member's administrative and clerical needs, which include daily scheduling, expense accounts, and personal correspondence. This correspondence is delivered by mailroom managers who devise plans for handling the enormous crush of mail that arrives in congressional offices each day. They maintain mass mailing records and prepare reports on mail volume and contents.
The legislative staff in a congressional office assists the Congress member with research of bills and other legislative duties. The legislative director oversees the legislative staff and helps the Congress member keep up to date on important bills. They make sure the Congress member can make informed decisions on issues. Assisting the director are legislative assistants and legislative correspondents. Legislative assistants are each responsible for the coverage of issues in which they have developed some expertise. They brief the member of Congress on the status of legislation for which they are responsible and prepare floor statements and amendments for them; they may also write speeches for the member. Legislative correspondents research and draft responses to letters received in the Congress member's offices.
Press secretaries are the primary spokespersons for members of Congress in their dealings with the media and the public. They respond to daily inquiries from the press, plan media coverage, coordinate press conferences, prepare press releases, review daily newspapers, and write content for blogs, social media sites, and Tweets.
State and district directors are responsible for state or district office operations, helping the Congress member to maintain close interaction with constituents. They represent their Congress member in all areas of the state or district and keep the office in Washington, D.C., informed on issues important to the local voters. Directors also plan the Congress member's visits to the state, sometimes accompanying him or her on a state tour.
A congressional staff also includes schedulers, who handle all the Congress member's scheduling of appointments and constituent services representatives, also known as caseworkers, who work directly with people having difficulties with the federal government in such areas as veterans' claims, social security, and tax returns.