‘Other duties as assigned’- In search of a congressional job description

Last week members of the U.S. House of Representatives staged a ‘sit in’ on the House floor – #NoBillNoBreak and then went home. In London, Members of Parliament argued the outcome of the #Brexit vote, trying to gain a foothold in a new world order. It got me thinking. With all this visibility, maybe more folks would be interested in a career as a congressman/congresswoman or MP.

Like any job seeker, I decided to look for a job description. You know, one of those outlines of responsibilities and ‘other duties as assigned’. I started my research where we all start, on Google.

For the UK, it was quite easy to come up with an ‘MP’s generic job description’ on the official UK Parliament website. Although it seems not to have been updated since 2001, it clearly sets out the scope of the job.

Job purpose

Represent, defend and promote national interests and further the needs and interests of constituents wherever possible.

Principal accountabilities

1.Help furnish and maintain Government and Opposition so that the business of parliamentary democracy may proceed.

2.Monitor, stimulate and challenge the Executive in order to influence and where possible change government action in ways which are considered desirable.

3.Initiate, seek to amend and review legislation so as to help maintain a continually relevant and appropriate body of law.

4.Establish and maintain a range of contacts throughout the constituency, and proper knowledge of its characteristics, so as to identify and understand issues affecting it and, wherever possible, further the interests of the constituency generally.

5.Provide appropriate assistance to individual constituents, through using knowledge of local and national government agencies and institutions, to progress and where possible help resolve their problems.

6.Contribute to the formulation of party policy to ensure that it reflects views and national needs which are seen to be relevant and important.

7.Promote public understanding of party policies in the constituency, media and elsewhere to facilitate the achievement of party objectives.

It’s even written in clear ‘accomplishment’ language that can easily transfer to a resume or CV.

Next, I searched House.gov, the official website of the U.S. House of Representatives. This is what I came up with.

What is a Representative?

Also referred to as a congressman or congresswoman, each representative is elected to a two-year term serving the people of a specific congressional district. Among other duties, representatives introduce bills and resolutions, offer amendments and serve on committees.

Not very accomplishment oriented.

Maybe I was using the wrong search terms. Following logic, I decided to check if there was a ‘new employee handbook’. There is – a ‘Members Congressional Handbook’ that spells out, in painful detail, staff categories, office expenses, communications, travel and House Documents. Still no job description. But clearly, you need to hire folks, budget, manage a staff, talk to colleagues, travel and submit expense reports.

And then there is the fundraising. A CBS 60 Minutes segment examined another ‘job requirement’ – telemarketing – for 30 hours a week.

“The American public has a low opinion of Congress. Only 14 percent think it’s doing a good job. But Congress has excelled in one way. Raising money. Members of Congress raised more than a billion dollars for their 2014 election. And they never stop.”

Check the box on fundraising, but 30 hours?

Here’s my question. How can we measure our representatives without a job description? We think they’re not doing a good job, but where in that short paragraph does it spell out how a member of Congress ‘serves’ the people.

In the UK, elected leaders are beginning a process to decouple from the European Union, not because they want to, but because the democratic referendum requires them to proceed. They have a job description that clearly guides their actions.

In the U.S. if you are 25, a U.S. citizen for seven years, and a resident of the district you wish to represent, you can begin the process to run for election. But what are you running for?

I think it’s time to create a few goals for our elected leaders; not political, but aspirational. For example – at the end of your two year term you will have effectively represented your constituents by visiting, listening and communicating their hopes for this country to your colleagues. You will represent the interests of your party as long as they coincide with the interests of your district. And when your personal views contradict those you represent, you will have the courage to be a servant leader.

We all operate in a workplace where half our day is spent doing things outside our job description. The point is, we are compensated for what we were hired to do. When the ‘other duties as assigned’ overwhelm our original purpose, it’s time to redefine the scope of what we do.

It’s time for a job description for Congress.

 

 

 

 

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