Why freshmen members of Congress are sending their staffers home

Congress didn’t have a great session. It passed fewer laws in 2013 than in any other year with a recorded total. And what little legislation did move was the product of the new norm in the congressional process—a deal brokered behind closed doors by leadership or its surrogates.

For first-term lawmakers, such congressional inaction can be toxic and potentially career-ending. With almost no chance to make a mark or score a single legislative achievement, freshmen have little opportunity to show voters that they are working on their district’s behalf.

And so, Swalwell and dozens of other freshman lawmakers have shifted resources out of the nation’s capital, swapping policy staffers for constituent-facing district office workers who have a better chance of affecting voters than any of their colleagues in Washington.

Indeed, at the start of 2014, 46 percent of all House members’ staffers now operate outside the capital, according to a National Journal review of payrolls and staff listings. Swalwell and 34 other freshmen exceed that proportion: Collectively, 52 percent of their staff members work back in the district.

That means a historically large share of staff aides are dedicated to constituent services, helping district residents navigate federal bureaucracy—stuff like getting new passports, recovering wrongly denied government benefits, advocating in a dispute with the IRS, or contacting endangered family members abroad.