WASHINGTON — A select committee tasked with improving how Congress works advanced a new slate of recommendations aimed at boosting accessibility and retaining staff.
“There are people who stick around for a long time, and people who are here for a short time, and then you see the average tenure at about that three- or four-year mark. So looking at how you hold on to those people is important,” Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer of Washington, chairman of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, said in an interview Wednesday.
The panel advanced 20 recommendations Thursday, including ones calling on the House to provide ways for staff to get tuition reimbursement for taking university classes and getting certificates. The panel also urged the House to create an office to help interns navigate onboarding and professional development.
“There is value in recruiting and retaining talented people. Because when you do that, you can solve tough problems better and make the institution less reliant on lobbyists,” Kilmer said.
Recommendations, which thematically focused on retention and accessibility, were approved in two blocs. A 15-recommendation bloc was adopted by unanimous consent.
A second five-recommendation bloc was approved by voice vote, but it was the first time the panel made recommendations without unanimous committee support. The panel advances all recommendations by a supermajority.
Among the recommendations that weren’t unanimous, drawing fire from Republican Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne, was the call for the House to expand tuition assistance so staff can go back to school. Another contested topic was stipends for committee interns.
Van Duyne said private and public sector jobs are completely different, adding that lawmakers should be good stewards of taxpayer money and staffers should make sacrifices to take jobs that are a public service.
“I don’t think the two groups should compete,” she said.
But both Kilmer and Modernization Vice Chairman William R. Timmons IV pushed back, arguing that retaining staff is a “rounding error on our budget” and worthwhile despite a growing national debt.