Unelected Representatives; Congressional
Staff And The Future Of Representative Government, by Michael J. Malbin, Basic
Books Inc., New York, 1980, 279p.
The United States Congress today is an
institution made up of 539 elected senators. representatives and nonvoting
delegates and 23,528 staff. In comparison. the second most heavily staffed
legislature in the world is the Parliament of Canada with a staff of about
3,300. Congress could not function in today's world without the staff on which
it has come to depend. Yet, as recently as 1945, Congress saw no need for permanent
professional committee staffs. Today.. the congressional budget is almost
forty-five times as large as it was three decades ago, committee staffs have
increased almost eightfold and personal staffs have increased fivefold. But has
this staff explosion helped or hurt the U.S. Congress?
This is the important question examined in
Unelected Representatives, by Michael Malbin. a research fellow at the American
Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, contributing editor to the
National Journal and Adjunct Associate Professor of Politics at the Catholic
University of America in Washington. Malbin concedes without question that
senators and representatives are better able to do their own jobs as
individuals by having professional legislative staffs directly, accountable to
them. His concern is an institutional rather than personal one: how well does
the system that helps the members as individuals serve the legislative branch
as a whole?
Malbin points out that Congress has been
pursuing at least four somewhat conflicting aims as it has increased the size
of its staff. These are: ( I ) a desire to be less dependent on the executive
branch and outside interest groups for information: (2) a desire. especially,
among members of the minority party, and junior senators and representatives.
to put their own imprint on issues of national importance; (3) a desire on the
part of an increasing number of members to devote their time and resources to
gaining credit in the media for putting new issues on the legislative agenda,
and (4) a desire on the part of almost everyone in Congress to gain some
control over their expanding workloads and over the increasingly fragmented
nature of the work.
Malbin bases his study on the operations of
different committee staffs, since they have the greatest influence over
legislation, and illustrates specific stages of the legislative process.
Although many. of the examples cited have no Canadian counterpart, the chapter
dealing with the tensions and advantages of non-partisan staffs should be of
particular interest. Here Malbin examines the operations of the Joint Taxation
and House Budget committees and the shrinking world of nonpartisan
staffs." i.e.. staffs hired for their expertise rather than political
Also of special interest are the references
to the role of the Congressional Research Service. In 1970, the 332 people who
worked for the Library of Congress's Legislative Reference Service (as it was
then named) performed largely bibliographic. speechwriting and factual research
chores. The role of the service was expanded significantly by, the Legislative
Reorganization Act of 1970 which changed the name to Congressional Research
Service and gave it the mandate of analyzing and evaluating legislative
proposals upon request from a committee. By 1980, CRS had a staff of more than
800. With the rapid increase in staff has come more policy analysis and
research. By the end of the fiscal year 1975, one study estimated that 63 per
cent of CRS's staff and 71 per cent of its budget were devoted to these
activities although "quick and dirty" research done under tight
deadlines still outweighed analysis.
This study although describing a level of
staff resources unique to the United States Congress. should be of interest to
those persons concerned with improving staff resources for elected members in
Brian Land, Director, Ontario Legislative Library, Research and
Information Services, Toronto.