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ROLL CALL / HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Staff Payrolls Grow at 3 Times the Inflation Rate

September 23, 1993|RICHARD G. THOMAS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WASHINGTON — While the job market was stagnant in much of the country, members of the House of Representatives expanded their overall payroll for personal staff by nearly 9% last year, a new study has found.

House staff salaries totaled $230 million in 1992, up $18.9 million from the 1991 figure of $211.1 million, according to a survey by Roll Call Report Syndicate.

The percentage increase was more than triple the 2.9% inflation rate for 1992, as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

The survey examined the "clerk-hire" account that pays the approximately 7,500 aides on the personal staffs of the 435 House members and five delegates. It did not cover House committee staff or Senate staff payroll.

On average, staff payroll rose from $479,786 per member in 1991 to $522,734 in 1992.

House rules permit a member to hire up to 18 full-time and four part-time aides at salaries of up to $108,234. The average full-time salary last year was $33,388, with nearly 60% of House staffers receiving less than $30,000, according to the Congressional Management Foundation.

Each House member was allotted $557,400 for personal staff payroll with the option of raising that cap to $632,480 by transferring up to $75,000 from their general expense allowance. Members' unspent payroll usually is transferred to other House accounts rather than returned to the Treasury.

The 45 members then in office from California registered a combined payroll increase of more than $2 million, up from $22,116,459 in 1991 to $24,122,052 in 1992. Although the total for 1993 is not available, it is sure to be even higher because California now sends 52 members to the House.

Only two from California lowered their office staff expenses last year. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) registered a decrease of $8,843, or -1.9%, and Al McCandless (R-La Quinta) trimmed $3,663, or -0.8%.

The largest single increase among the California delegation was by Randy Cunningham (R-San Diego), who was up $117,979, or 25.3%. Others notable for their large increases were Calvin Dooley (D-Visalia), $98,750, or 22.5%; Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), $79,286, or 18.1%, and Edward R. Roybal (D-Los Angeles), $61,899, or 15.4%. Roybal retired last year after 30 years in office.

Nationwide, the largest individual increases were registered mostly by lawmakers who left Congress at the end of 1992: Democrats Charles A. Hayes of Illinois (36.5%), Joe Kolter of Pennsylvania (32.7%) and Edward F. Feighan of Ohio (23.7%), and Republicans Larry J. Hopkins of Kentucky (32.3%), Dick Nichols of Kansas (31.4%) and Clarence E. Miller of Ohio (24.1%).

Among those who remained in office, the biggest expansion was recorded by Democrat James P. Moran Jr. of Virginia (25.9%).

Fattened payrolls usually are defended as necessary to keep pace with increasing constituent and policy demands. The argument is also heard that a faltering economy or bungling federal bureaucracy can trigger a heavier workload that in turn justifies staff upgrades.

"The federal government is huge and there are very unfair, unreasonable things that can happen to people, and they run up against a stone wall in trying to work them out," said Selby McCash, staff chief to Rep. J. Roy Rowland (D-Ga.), who had the lowest payroll among Georgia House members ($463,013, up 4.9% from 1991).

"The fact is, the congressional office can get the attention of the bureaucracy and clear up problems," McCash said. "That ombudsman role really doesn't exist anywhere else. . . . Do I think congressional staffs serve a useful function and in fact earn the kind of salaries they are receiving? The answer is a very definite yes."

Moran was in Russia and unavailable for comment. Mame Reiley, his staff chief, said that "as times get tough in our district, there becomes a greater need for the congressional staff to give constituent services."

Is the representative concerned that voters might resent staff expansion at the same time Congress asks them to sacrifice to tame the deficit?

"As long as they get a correct explanation, they will understand," Reiley said, noting that the closeness of their suburban Washington district to Capitol Hill results in heavy constituent traffic by telephone and in person.

Andrew Jacobs Jr. (D-Ind.) had the fourth-lowest payroll in the House in 1992 at $395,910, up 7.7% from 1991. Asked if he can meet the demands of his Indianapolis constituents with a comparatively low payroll, Jacobs said:

"The money seems adequate to us. They used to say of Bernard Shaw, his friends would say he looked very young for his age and he would say, 'No, you look old for your age.' I think we get our work done, although right now we're in a little bit of a pinch because since Clinton came in, our mail has tripled. On the other hand, the same man is answering the mail, namely myself. We haven't had any complaints."

He said additional staff can increase workloads as aides scramble to justify paychecks with "make-work."

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