The Open House Project from The Sunlight Foundation

The Going Rate for Senior Senate Staff

December 18th, 2009 by Daniel Schuman · No Comments

A revolving door story in Roll Call ($) yesterday reported that lobbying firm interest in hiring Capitol Hill staffers has not been sated by the weakened economy. What caught my attention, however, were these paragraphs on salaries:

Democrats are still garnering higher salaries than their Republican counterparts. In particular, Senate Democratic leadership staff, high-ranking committee staff and chiefs of staff are in demand, according to headhunters.

While the peak of the market for Democratic aides may have already passed with lobby shops and corporations expecting Democrats to lose seats in the House and the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections, the going rate for key Senate Democratic aides runs about $400,000 to $500,000, headhunters said.

But even those salaries are out of reach for most Hill staffers; several lobbyists noted Congressional aides’ outsized expectations for going downtown. Law firms, in particular, are being cautious about hiring people without an existing book of client business.

Wow. Only the House releases its Statement of Disbursements data online — the Senate will do so in 2011 — so we do not have 2009 data on the earnings of Senate staff. According to a 2006 analysis by ICF Consulting, Senate chiefs of staff earn between $114,000 and $160,659 annually, with a median salary of $157,150. (House chiefs of staff earn on average $130,000 annually, nearly $30,000 less.)

We can use these numbers as a proxy for senior Senate aides, although I don’t have a useful breakdown on what senior committee staff earn. (Nor do I know how long Senate chiefs of staff stay at their job; their House counterparts served on average 5.2 years in 2006.) If this news report is accurate, the average Senate Democratic chief of staff or senior aide could expect to triple or quadruple his or her salary by going to work as a lobbyist.

I would love to see a study of staffers who have become lobbyists, and whether they can expect a salary bump by making that transition. It would also be helpful to have public access to reports generated during the last decade for the House and Senate by the Congressional Management Foundation and ICF Consulting regarding staff pay and retention rates.

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