Congressional staff are employees of the United States Congress or individual members of Congress. The position first developed in the late 19th century, and it expanded significantly during the 20th century. Staffers may work with individual members of Congress, or they may be associated with committees or other organizations that support Congress.
Before the American Civil War, members of Congress did not have staff assistance or even offices, and "most members worked at their desks on the floor."
In 1891, Congress had a total of 146 staff members: 37 Senate personal staff, 39 Senate committee staff, and 62 House committee staff (37 of whom only worked during congressional sessions). The House first approved personal staff for Representatives in 1893. By the beginning of the 20th century, congressional staff had become a well-accepted feature of congressional operations.
In 1943, House committees employed 114 staff members, while Senate committees employed 190 staff members. The size of individual members' personal staffs were still relatively small, with the average senator having six staffers and representatives limited to having five staffers. In the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which reformed Congress and greatly reduced the number of congressional committees, Congress expressly authorized permanent, professional committee staff for the first time. The act provided for a much-needed increase in committee staff, allowing for up to four professional and six clerical staff members for each standing committee, except for the appropriations committees (which had no limitation on the number of staff members). The 1946 act also reorganized the Library of Congress and created the Legislative Reference Service (which later became the Congressional Research Service) as a distinct entity. The size of both personal and committee staff increased considerably after the passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act. Following the significant increase in 1947, there was gradual growth in the number of both kinds of staff for about twenty years. Increased staff specialization also occurred during this period of slow growth (i.e., staffers began to be divided into press, legislative, and casework roles).
In the 1970s, there was again a sharp jump in the number of staff. This was a response "in part to increased workloads and in part to confrontation with the executive branch on various issues, including the president's impoundment of funds and the Watergate crisis." The political scientist Morris P. Fiorina, in his book Congress: Keystone of the Washington Establishment, found that the number of congressional staff more than doubled between 1960 and 1974. The increase was mostly in district or state offices; the percentage of congressional staff who worked in a district office went from 14% in 1960 to 34% in 1974.
In the 1970s and 1990s, "staff numbers generally held level and increases were held down. After 1995, staff numbers actually decreased slightly." In 2021 a group of staffers called Congressional Progressive Staff Association sought to push for workplace measures and with the support of Representative Andy Levin make incremental reforms.
C-SPAN classifies staff members into five categories:
In the year 2000, there were approximately 11,692 personal staff, 2,492 committee staff, 274 leadership staff, 5,034 institutional staff, and 3,500 GAO employees, 747 CRS employees, and 232 CBO employees.
Budgets for staff were determined by the population of the state; Senators from California, the most populous state, get more money for staff than Senators from Wyoming, the least populous state. Members can choose how to distribute staff between their Washington office and their United States congressional district home office or offices.
Not all offices have the same type of organization, and different titles may be used for substantially similar jobs. Common jobs are:
Each congressional committee has a staff, of varying sizes. Appropriations for committee staff are made in annual legislative appropriations bills. Majority and minority members hire their own staff except on two select committees in each house—the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the House and the Select Committee on Ethics and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the Senate. These committees have a single staff.
In 2000, House committees had an average of 68 staff and Senate committees an average of 46. Committee staff includes both staff directors, committee counsel, committee investigators, press secretaries, chief clerks and office managers, schedules, documents clerks, and assistant.
Like members of Congress, congressional staff have occasionally been the targets of violence or threats of violence. Between 1789 and 2011, there were five incidents affecting some congressional staff alongside members of Congress. The following recorded incidents of violence against congressional staff have taken place: