Staffs really grew by 2,467 since '90

CONGRESS' STAFF CUTS ARE JUST GIMMICKS

December 19, 1992|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Disturbed by the ever-rising number of congressional and White House staffers, President-elect Bill Clinton has vowed to reverse the growth of the brief-case toting brigade.

He will have his work cut out for him at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Clinton promised to reduce the burgeoning White House staff by 25 percent. Mr. Clinton also asked Congress, where the number of staffers has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, to match his figure.

But last month Mr. Clinton seemed to back away from that request, when assured by congressional leaders that they already had trimmed their staffs.

Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell said at the time that "in the past decade, the number of employees in the legislative branch of the government has declined 4 percent."

Well, not really.

While the 1980s saw a clear reduction in staff among the legislative branch -- a category that includes such entities as the Library of Congress and the Botanic Garden -- the congressional staff portion of that budget has increased by 2,467 since 1990, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

And while Rep. Vic Fazio, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees legislative spending, said the budget for next year would drop 5.7 percent from 1992, the figure had more to do with an accounting gimmick than a budget knife.

The reduction of $23 million comes from crediting the House with returning to the treasury about $28 million that was appropriated but not spent in past years.

Without that credit, next year's House spending would have been $5 million higher than this year, according to Congressional Quarterly, which noted that the Senate, meanwhile, appropriated million more than this year for its own operations in 1993.

Next year the House will spend $671 million on its operations, while the Senate will spend $451 million. Mr. Fazio estimated that about 67 percent of its budget is for personnel. No corresponding figure was immediately available for the Senate.

Congressional leaders complain that comparing congressional and White House staffs is misleading because the president can use personnel from the Cabinet departments without putting them on the White House payroll.

Even though the White House staff shrank by more than half between the Nixon administration and the end of the Carter administration and continued to decrease in the 1980s, the recent trend has been upward.

Bureaucrats toiling in the executive office of the president have increased 20 percent since 1986, according to the Office of Personnel Management. The White House staff numbered about in September.

The number of congressional staffers has climbed even more dramatically over the past two decades.

When Barbara Mikulski was a Baltimore social worker 22 years ago, there were 11,274 staffers spread among the offices and committees on Capitol Hill.

This year that figure rose to 21,709, including 52 who work for the social worker turned senator.

The Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress is expected to look into staffing levels and recommend cutting some committees.

House members are allowed to carry up to 18 permanent, full-time staff members on the payroll along with another four part-time staffers per month, according to the House Administration Committee.

The staff account for fiscal year 1992 was $537,480, the committee said. In addition, others staffers may be appointed for leadership posts and some committee assignments, with their salaries frequently being paid from committee budgets or shared through the personal office.

The salary ceiling for a House staffer is $104,878 a year for fiscal 1992 and the lowest amount for a yearly salary is $1,200, according to the committee.

On the Senate side, an annual staff budget reflects the population of the state, ranging from just over $1 million (which includes Maryland) to $1.9 million. Each office is allotted another $280,000 for committee staff, according to Tim Wineman, assistant financial clerk with the office of the secretary of the Senate.

There is no limit to the number of staffers a Senate office can employ. The maximum annual salary is $124,000 and the minimum is $1,600.

Among the Maryland congressional delegation, the top-paid House staffer is David Nathan, 52-year-old administrative assistant to Rep. Constance A. Morella for the past five years. He made $87,900, according to House records.

Marvin "Bud" Moss, 55, administrative assistant to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, is the top-paid Maryland Senate staffer, earning $87,841, Senate records show.

There are scores in both chambers who earn more. Twenty percent of administrative assistants in the House -- about 85 people -- earn more than $90,000 each year, with about half those making more than $100,000, according to the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonpartisan group.

The foundation also found that 20 Senate administrative assistants pull in annual salaries that exceed $96,000.

The Maryland lawmaker with the top number of staff is Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Baltimore County Republican, who listed 31 in the final quarter of the latest House report, including nine temporaries and two shared on committee work. (Rotation of part-time workers can sometimes inflate staff totals because of overlapping, since some part-timers leave in mid-month and are replaced.)

Many of the part-time staff work in district offices on constituent issues, said a Bentley aide.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat who employs the smallest personal staff among the delegation -- 18 in the final quarter of the most recent report -- explained that he tries to spread his salary allotment among a smaller staff, rather than hiring more people. As a result, he has less turnover.

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