Shared employees in the U.S. House: Who are they, and what do they do?
Members of the House are permitted to have 18 permanent employees and 4 additional employees–including interns, part-time employees, shared employees, temporary employees, and employees on leave without pay
In a previous post I explored the distribution of permanent and additional employees across member personal offices. Here, I take a close look at the biggest subgroup of additional employees—shared employees.
Definition of “shared employee”
Before starting, it’s worth clarifying what “shared employee” means in this post. There are two ways an employee qualifies as shared. First, some employees in House Statements of Disbursement (SoDs) carry the job title “shared employee.” If an employee appears in a House SoD as a “shared employee,” in the employment of a member’s personal office, the record is included. Second, if an employee is employed by two different offices at the same time, as defined by the start and end dates provided in the SoDs, and at least one of these concurrent offices is a member’s personal office, the corresponding records are included.
So, who were the shared employees in the House between 2016 and 2018?
The big picture
At any given time, there are about 289 shared employees in the House, accounting for about 4 percent of all personal office staff. Roughly 367 personal offices use shared employees. On average each shared employee works for 3 to 4 different offices, at least one of which is a personal office. A shared employee makes $127,000 to128,000 per year, which is roughly double the average annual salary of non-shared employees over the same period of time.
This provides some sense of the big picture: there aren’t all that many shared employees in the House, though most offices use them, and they are very well compensated relative to the average House staffer.
Getting into the details
With this big picture in mind, let’s try to get a better sense of where in the institution shared staffers work. First, let’s take a look at the types of offices that are sharing employees.
Shared employees can be shared one of two different ways in the data—they can be shared between personal offices or between personal and non-personal offices. Here, I am only interested in how personal offices use shared employees, the third permutation —employees shared between non-personal offices— is excluded from this data.
Personal to non-personal sharing: the committee staff extended universe. Around 70% of all shared employees (around 191) in the House are shared between personal and non-personal offices, and are generally shared between 4 to 5 different offices. These employees are making just over $128,000 per year.
Of this group, the vast majority are shared between personal offices and committees (around 86%). The remaining 14% are shared between personal and leadership offices. Some committees tend to lean more heavily on shared staff. For instance, the House Appropriations Committee, the most frequent user of shared employees, has 30 or so in their employment at any given time. After Appropriations, there is a fairly steep drop off: Foreign Affairs averages 21, Financial Services, 12 to 13, and Energy and Commerce, 11 to 12. At the low end, Intelligence and Ethics both generally have 2 shared employees. The mighty House Armed Services Committee doesn’t appear to have any, building its staff capacity in other ways.
Some of these numbers are the consequence of formal commitments. For instance, Appropriations, in Section 3 of its standing rules, provides for “Assistants to Members,” who are often concurrently employed in their member’s personal office. For other heavy users, reasons are less apparent. Budget size and number of members and subcommittees seem to have some contributing effects. The committee members who benefit from this arrangement are, by and large, the chair, ranking member, and subcommittee chairs.
Personal to personal: caucuses, financial administrators, and IT support staff.
The remaining 30% of shared employees are shared between at least two personal offices. These employees, in contrast to the previous group, are spread much thinner, generally being shared between 7 to 8 offices. Much like employees shared between personal and non-personal offices, these employees are also very well compensated– making $127,000 to128,000 per year.
At any given time, these employees seem to be concentrated in three groups: caucus staff (37%), financial professionals (31%), and IT professionals (12%). The remaining 20% seem to serve various roles that cannot be neatly grouped– some members share schedulers, district directors, or other employees that traditionally work for a single member.
Among caucuses, the Democratic Caucus (17%), the Republican Conference (14%), the Republican Study Committee (11%), and the Congressional Western Caucus (10%) have the most shared employees.
Adding it all up
First, it is important to keep in mind the small numbers involved here. Staff shared between personal offices is a small group–around 98 different individuals at any given time. The 37% of this group who seem to be caucus employees is only about 36 individuals, which means the 17% working for the Democratic Caucus is only about 6 to 7 people.
So, with that in mind, what can we say about shared employees?
Shared committee and caucus staff are likely more important to the policymaking process than the others. While traditional committee staff (i.e., those who work for only the committee) are often thought of as wellsprings of domain-specific expertise, these shared committee staff are better thought of as coordinating or managerial staff, serving the interests of a single member’s committee-related duties and goals. Caucus staff share some of these characteristics, but seem to more frequently serve in explicitly political roles, such as communications, than committee staff. To the extent that policy entrepreneurs are scattered across congress itself, caucus staff, perhaps other than members, are likely some of the most important of the bunch.
The data seem to back this up: when descriptive job titles (as opposed to shared employee) do appear, personal office employees generally considered managerial, such as chiefs of staff and legislative directors, are by far the most common shared committee staff. Among caucus employees, chief of staff, communications director, and press secretary are the most common descriptive job titles.
Regardless of their day-to-day activities, it is clear that these two groups of employees, and indeed all shared employees, have fundamentally different roles than most other congressional staff. While some, such as financial administrators and IT professionals, serve in less policy-relevant roles, those who do work policy adjacent are probably some of the most important employees in the House.