By April Carson
On a daily basis, Capitol Hill staffers in both houses of Congress are hard at work on matters of national importance. Their work directly affects not only the military but the entire federal government, and the nation as a whole. From considering nominees for lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary to helping to decide on the size and budgets of the various military services, a Hill staffer’s ability to influence national policy is immense. Having staffers with a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences — including military spouses — leads to better public policy.
Historically, military spouses and veterans have been underrepresented on Capitol Hill staffs, to the detriment of both members of congress and the public they represent. I can count the number of military spouses currently working in congressional offices on one hand; really for no good reason, as most military families pass through the national capital region at some point. A three-year assignment is more than sufficient time for a military spouse to make a meaningful contribution to any Hill office.
There are a wide range of jobs that military spouses can do on the Hill. Generally, jobs are broken down into positions with individual members of Congress, either in the House or Senate, or staff positions on the various congressional committees, such as the Senate Judiciary Committee, where I am a counsel. Legislative assistants or “LA’s” for short handle a legislative portfolio for their member of congress or Senator, meaning they draft legislation within a particular subject area, and are expected to be the subject-matter expert on that issue. Legislative correspondents or “LC’s” are generally more junior positions, and entail more interaction with constituents than with members of Congress or other staffers. Military spouses can also serve as counsel on a personal staff or committee, addressing the legal aspects of legislative issues.
You have to network to get your foot in the door on the Hill. Start by setting up 30 minute coffee meetings with every staffer you know. Be prepared to give a short overview of your experience as well as what you have to offer an office or committee. Make sure to find out what their path was in landing their job. Before the meeting is over ask them to introduce you to another staffer that may be able to help you in your job search.
Openings in Congressional offices are filled quickly. Your goal should be to have you resume in the hands of a staffer who will know about an opening before it becomes public and can forward your information for the position. For personal office jobs, there is a strong favoritism towards hiring from the home state or house district of the member. If you are from California your first stop should be the Offices of Senators Feinstein and Boxer. Most members have a regularly scheduled breakfast for constituents, ranging from weekly to once a month. You should find out when this event is occurring. It is a good way to meet the member and her staff, and let them know that you are a military spouse interested in a position with their office.
Getting a job on the Hill is hard for everyone—whether military spouse or not. My best advice is to try to not get discouraged. As a military spouse, you already have the skills you need to succeed on the Hill. We’re adaptable problem-solvers with a wide range of experiences, from living overseas to dealing with deployments. We are goal-oriented and persistent. It’s just a matter of translating those skills to the language of the Hill. Living in a B-Hut when I was teaching soldiers in Afghanistan taught me more about handling constituent concerns than any job I’ve had since law school.
Trust me, you can do this! Sharpen up your resume and start making connections and I’ll see you at Cups before you know it.
April Carson is a proud Army wife, and serves as counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee. April can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.