Himes' staffers top Connecticut congressional delegation for bonus pay
WASHINGTON -- Annual bonuses are routine for many congressional staffers, with the average bonus amounting to $3,248 last year, according to a survey of compensation on Capitol Hill.
Three of Connecticut's five Democratic House members paid bonuses in 2010, with Rep. Jim Himes leading the way with a total of $80,775 distributed among his 17 staffers in Washington, Bridgeport and Stamford.
In second place, Rep. Rosa DeLauro paid bonuses estimated at $68,718, according to quarterly payroll data analyzed by LegisStorm, an independent organization that tracks congressional finances. Individual bonus information isn't public.
The 2010 House Compensation Study compiled by the Chief Administrative Officer of the House found that 77 percent of House members paid bonuses. The average bonus was $3,248.
The survey also reported that most House members who paid bonuses determined the size of the bonus on the basis of merit, job type or tenure, while other House members paid the same amount or percentage to all employees.
House members, who earn $174,000 a year, can hire up to 18 full-time or part-time staffers who are then paid from a $1.5 million--a-year Members' Representational Allowance, which covers payroll, office rent, travel, mail and communications expenses. Individual staff salaries are set by the House member, and some veteran staffers earn more than $100,000 a year.
Members can use any surplus to pay staff bonuses -- or they can return the unspent funds to the U.S. Treasury.
Jason Cole, chief of staff to Himes, said all 17 staffers in the congressman's three offices -- Washington, Bridgeport and Stamford -- received equal bonuses last November. In addition, 15 of the 17 staffers received additional bonus payments in December based on merit, determined by such variables as workload and overall performance.
Himes returned more than $45,000 to the Treasury from his members' allowance, according to Cole. "The congressman is serious about deficit reduction, which is why his spending on staff salaries was 8 percent less than his predecessor's in 2008," Cole said. "Congressman Himes' careful management of his budget allowed him to return over $80,000 to the taxpayers in 2009 and over $45,000 last year."
Comparable data for staffers in the U.S. Senate aren't available.
Bradford Fitch, president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank, said the bonuses reflect "the fact that congressional staffers are paid 20-25 percent less than in the private sector or in the executive branch. Not only do they get paid less, but they also work longer hours.
"The personal satisfaction that comes from public service is part of their compensation.''
Fitch noted the federal budget crunch has led to a 5 percent across-the-board-cut in members' allowances this year. "This means bonuses this year will likely be less,'' he said.
Typically, the top staffer in a House member's office is the chief of staff. The 2010 compensation survey showed that the average pay for that position was $136,588 annually.
Other typical staff positions include the legislative director of the office (average pay: $89,674); senior legislative aide ($63,508); legislative aide (48,762); press secretary/communications director ($64,003); scheduler ($51,869); district director ($92,650); staff assistant in the district office ($31,013); and case worker in the district ($47,543).