The Primary Responsibilities of Each Position in Each House of Congress Separately
The origins of the U.S. Constitution and the convention that brought it into existence are rooted in failure—the failure of the Articles of Confederation. After only a handful of years, the states of the union decided that the Articles were unworkable. To save the young republic, a convention was called, and delegates were sent to assemble and revise the Articles. The Congress we recognize today emerged from the controversies and compromises in this convention.
Congressional employees are retained to perform public duties that include assisting Members in official responsibilities in personal, committee, leadership, or administrative office settings. The roles, duties, and activities of congressional staff are matters of ongoing interest to Members of Congress, congressional staff, groups, and individuals, including those who raise concerns about congressional operations. Most observers recognize that Congress does not function without staff, but there is little systematic attention to what staff do, or what Members expect of them. In congressional offices, there may be interest in identifying Member expectations of congressional staff duties by position from multiple perspectives, including assessment of staffing needs in Member offices; guidance in setting position expectations, qualifications, and experience when offices choose to hire staff; and informing current and potential congressional employees of position expectations. Members of the House and Senate generally establish their own employment policies and practices for their personal offices. It is arguably the case that within Member offices, a common group of activities is executed for which staff with relevant skillsets and other qualifications are necessary. A body of publicly available job advertisements for staff positions from a number of different offices can shed light on the expectations Members have for position duties, as well as staff skills, characteristics, experience, and other expectations.
Today, the roles and duties carried out by a Member of Congress are understood to include representation, legislation, and constituent service and education, as well as political and electoral activities. In a typical week, Members may oversee constituent services in the state or district, travel between their state or district to Washington, DC, to participate in committee activities, greet a local delegation from the home state, meet with lobbyists, supervise office staff, speak on the floor, conduct investigations, interact with the news media, and attend to various electoral duties, including fundraising, planning, or campaigning for election. Given that no precise definition exists for the role of a Member, upon election to Congress, each new Member is responsible for developing an approach to his or her job that serves a wide range of roles and responsibilities. One observer of Congress notes that the first job of a Member is to come to grips with the dimensions of [their] role and develop a personal approach to [their] tasks (Burdett A. Loomis, 1975). Given the many challenges, the overall conclusion is readily apparent: the key to effectiveness in Congress is the ability to organize well within a framework of carefully selected priorities. It is not possible, however, to construct a grand master plan such that priorities and the time devoted to each will neatly mesh, for legislative life is subject to sudden and numerous complications (Davidson and Oleszek, 1981).
To conclude, despite the acceptance of these roles and other activities as facets of the Member’s job, there is no formal set of requirements or official explanation of what roles might be played as Members carry out the duties of their offices. In the absence of formal authorities, many of the responsibilities that Members of Congress have assumed over the years have evolved from the expectations of Members and their constituents.
Davidson and Oleszek, Congress and its Members, pp. 140-145; Robert H. Salisbury and Kenneth A. Shepsle, "U.S. Congressman as Enterprise," Legislative Studies Quarterly, vol. 6, November 1981, pp. 559-576;
Burdett A. Loomis, "The Congressional Office as a Small (?) Business: New Members Set Up Shop," Publius, vol. 9, Summer 1979, pp. 35-55.
Gregory J. Wawro, Legislative Entrepreneurship in the U.S. House of Representatives (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2000)