As a U.S. Senator, I run an organization with a yearly budge of $___ and ___ employees.
September 4, 2008 10:11 AM   Subscribe

What size organization does a U.S. Senator run?

All this talk of U.S. Senators having no "executive experience" seems a little silly to me. It's my impression that each senator runs a sizable operation with an office in Washington and several offices spread around their home states (just looking at big states, Cornyn of Texas has 7, Clinton of New York has 9, but Feinstein of California has only 4). I found salary info, but I can't seem to find hard numbers on how many people each senate office employs and what their yearly budgets are. Bonus points if you can find the same information for members of the House of Representatives.
posted by Xalf to Law & Government (17 answers total)
On the latest Daily Show, Newt Gingrich stated that Obama's senate office had an annual budget of $4 million and 69 employees. Don't know if that includes all offices.
posted by Gyan at 10:17 AM on September 4, 2008

They are given a lot of leeway in regards to spending their budget and employees.

In fact, they can give the money back if they wish. It looks like Sen. Allard of Colorado had a budget of 2.25 million in 2004.

I believe their budgets vary based on the population of their state.

And, just from personal experience, some senators spend a lot of money on decorators, posh curtains, and really comfy chairs.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:28 AM on September 4, 2008

That's one source, thanks. The video is here and Newt says $4.5 million.
posted by Xalf at 10:28 AM on September 4, 2008

Right... Except that the only real powers that Senators have is 1) draft / amend legislation; 2) hold hearings; and 3) respond to constituent mail / contact federal agencies on behalf of constituents. Also, the US Senate has in house staff which takes care of most administrative details. Senators get budgets / allowances for staff & travel, and have to live within those constraints.

Whoever you support, it's simply not the same thing as managing public budgets and agencies dealing with law enforcement, public safety, and social services.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:33 AM on September 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

For reference, the term "executive experience" is a legal term of art referring to the Executive Branch of government, not experience as a leader in what would be considered an "executive" position in the business world. So by definition, neither Obama nor McCain has any executive experience, for neither of them have served or been elected to any position in any executive branch. By contrast, both Colin Powell and Madeline Albright can be said to have "executive experience" for both have held high (though unelected) office in the Executive branch.

State governments, and to a lesser extent local governments, also tend to observe the separation of powers doctrine that is a key feature of American forms of government, with executive functions separated from legislative functions, though local governments frequently muddle this quite a bit, e.g. sometimes you see a town council with both executive and legislative functions

"Running a sizable operation" doesn't have anything to do with "executive experience." That may or may not matter in terms of qualification for being President, but technically, that's what the term means, so no amount of legislative or business experience will count.
posted by valkyryn at 10:59 AM on September 4, 2008

Um, the Congress passes the budget. It's an important part of what they do.
posted by MythMaker at 11:02 AM on September 4, 2008

Please, let's not make this into an argument over who is qualified to be president. Based on Valkyryn's point (which, although it seems pretty obvious, I hadn't thought of), my question, as posed, may be a little silly. Let's pretend that I asked about "management experience" instead of "executive experience." Although I haven't gotten to the hard numbers yet, I've gotten a little closer thanks to this article, this report, and this section of the budget report.
posted by Xalf at 11:09 AM on September 4, 2008

If you want to find out congressional office staff budgets and related matters, your best bet is -- for instance, if you want to find out Barack Obama's staff's salaries, have a look at

My own opinion: senatorial experience is essentially not comparable to the kind of executive expertise constantly required of a political or military executive decision-maker. Governors have to make decisions about the best use of limited resources constantly. Senators spend a great deal of time doing things that confer benefits but carry very little costs -- e.g., many staffers spend a great deal of time answering letters, writing press releases, and nagging federal executive agencies on behalf of constituents. Senators pay very little cost for most decisions they make, except that they have to stand before the people every six years. When they make a mistake, it's easy for them to shift blame. When governors make a mistake, it routinely generates negative press coverage the very next day and the cost can be immediately noticed. Maybe I am biased, but I think there is something to the idea that senatorial experience (less than 100 employees) is much less demanding than Alaska gubernatorial experience (30,000 or so employees).

The CEO is held to a much higher standard, and should get more credit or more blame, than a member of the board of directors.
posted by Mr. Justice at 11:10 AM on September 4, 2008

It's really difficult to calculate that kind of thing, because there are other staffs besides a Senator's personal staff. For instance, if the Senator is chairman of one of the standing committees, then there is staff associated with that committee. I think there might also be committee staff for ranking minority members.

There are also caucus staffs which are controlled by the leaders of each party in the Senate, typically the majority/minority leaders and the majority/minority whips.

Plus, the President Pro Tem (currently Harry Reid) has staff for that job.
posted by Class Goat at 11:21 AM on September 4, 2008

I don't know what the numbers are, but committee chairs (and sub-committee chairs?) and ranking members also have significant staff associated with their committee work. My knowledge comes from the House side, but it's not unusual for the committee staff to outnumber the personal staff. Running a committee is probably more akin to "executive" experience as there are certain deliverables you have to hash out each year or so in addition to the leadership issue.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:23 AM on September 4, 2008

erm, what class goat said.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:24 AM on September 4, 2008

And who does the Congressional Budget Office work for? It's certainly not part of the Executive branch.

According to its web page, the Director of the Congressional Budget Office is jointly appointed by the Speaker of the House (Pelosi) and the President Pro Tem of the Senate (Reid) to a 4 year term. CBO employs 230 people.
posted by Class Goat at 11:25 AM on September 4, 2008

The CBO provides analysis of the budgetary impact of legislation, but does very little in terms of actual budget administration.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:30 AM on September 4, 2008

Don't forget about the size of the campaigns Obama and McCain are each running. A presidential campaign is a mammoth undertaking. I definitely consider that to be relevant leadership experience.

Really, though, experience isn't everything. If it were, we'd just promote the people who've been in Washington the longest. You know... the ones who got us into the messes we're now in...
posted by 2oh1 at 12:02 PM on September 4, 2008

2oh1: you're right on the money. Not every critique of McCain or Obama needs to be refuted. In fact, many of the common criticisms of both candidates happen to be true. I wish we could all be more honest about this... but I guess that such complexity is impossible when you're trying to win over the masses.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:18 PM on September 4, 2008

Based on the time I worked on Capitol Hill, this answer is probably about right.

Usually, Congressional offices are run by a Chief of Staff or "Administrative Assistant" (who ranks much higher than the title implies) and the legislator focuses on the substantive and publicity-related tasks of the job. CoS and AA's generally come from two different sources: having run the campaign, or having run some other legislative office. Obama, for instance, hired for his CoS the former CoS to Senator Daschle.
posted by mikewas at 12:19 PM on September 4, 2008

All this talk of U.S. Senators having no "executive experience" seems a little silly to me.

It is, but the right answer isn't "No, senators have valuable experience at..."

The right answer is "This is a bogus issue that you're only pretending to care about, and that you didn't care about until last weekend." There's no reason to engage the particular concern, since it's not real.

And yes, the size of senators' offices and their budgets depends on state population.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:35 PM on September 4, 2008 [5 favorites]

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