How exactly do members of Congress spend their time?

Colleen Kelleher,

WASHINGTON – They thrive on their “extreme work environment,” put in an average 70 hours a week and are dedicated to public service. A first-of-its-kind research report pulls back the curtain on the lives of members of Congress.

“Members of Congress have a pretty strong work ethic. They spend about 70 hours a week when in Washington working, and when they are back home, about 59 hours a week,” says Brad Fitch, president and chief executive officer of the Congressional Management Foundation.

The foundation and the Society for Human Resource Management jointly put together the Life in Congress: The Member Perspective” report. Of the 194 members of the U.S. House of Representatives randomly selected to participate in the 2011 survey, 25 responded.

The report doesn’t address what frustrates many people — the work Congress accomplishes. Instead, it looks at Congress’ work processes and their work ethic, essentially what goes into fulfilling their public service responsibility.

“They think the most important thing they need to do is staying in touch with their constituents,” Fitch says.

The report concludes:

“If we view our public servants as objects, faceless and nameless creatures, it is much easier to deride their work and motivations. But if we view our legislators the way we’d view a co-worker-someone with whom we may not always agree, but nonetheless respect their sacrifice and effort-then perhaps public appreciation of and satisfaction with our democratic institutions could be enhanced. This is not to suggest that examining workplace issues in Congress is somehow a panacea for what ails our democracy. Yet, if greater knowledge of “civics” is widely accepted as a cure for a dysfunctional democratic dialogue and process, then constituent understanding of Congress as a workplace is one small part of that cure.”

Here’s how members of Congress spend their time while in D.C.:

  • 35 percent on “Legislative/Policy Work”
  • 17 percent on “Constituent Services Work”
  • 17 percent on “Political/Campaign Work”
  • 9 percent on “Press/Media Relations”
  • 9 percent with “Family/Friends”
  • 7 percent on “Administrative/Managerial Work”
  • 6 percent on “Personal Time”

Here’s how members of Congress spend their time in their congressional districts:

  • 32 percent on “Constituent Services Work”
  • 18 percent on “Political/Campaign Work”
  • 14 percent on “Press/Media Relations”
  • 12 percent on “Legislative/Policy Work”
  • 9 percent with “Family/Friends”
  • 8 percent on “Personal Time”
  • 7 percent on “Administrative/Managerial Work”

The report finds the workload of members of Congress these days is 24/7, something people may not realize, Fitch says.

“Maybe those contributions aren’t translating in ways that are tangible and at least visible to their constituents,” he says.

Fitch says the report does not address what work management experts might, namely that members of Congress work in a high-stress environment “where they don’t have enough time to, frankly, recharge their energies.”

“Does that lead to, frankly, less effective or less efficient processes? If we were talking about a factory, that might result in a more defective work product,” he says.

“The factory here is the democracy of America, and the work product are policies that affect millions of Americans.

“You got to ask yourself, are there things we should be looking at that might give them more of an opportunity to recharge their batteries and frankly, perhaps, be more effective at what they are doing?”

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