Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

How to hire a U.S. Senator

February 23, 2011 by Dr. Steve Frank


The announcement late last week by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) that he plans to leave the Senate brought the number of U.S. Senators who have decided not to seek re-election in 2012 to six.

With 33 of the 100 Senate seats being contested, the senatorial “quit rate,” which is the official U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics term for voluntarily leaving your job, now stands at 18 percent.

I wondered how that compared to other working stiffs. And it turns out that U.S. Senators are a little less satisfied with their jobs than the rest of us. In 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available, the national quit rate was 16.8 percent, a figure that reflected the depressed economy. In good times, about a quarter of the labor force quits their job each year, presumably to pursue better opportunities.

Which made me wonder – from a management perspective, because we are their bosses, after all -- what can be done to increase senatorial job satisfaction?

But there’s a lot of variation by industry. Senators are somewhat less satisfied with their jobs than transportation and warehouse workers (15.5% quit rate), but a lot more satisfied than hotel and food-service workers (39.2% quit rate).

Compared to federal government workers, who had an annual quit rate of just 2.3 percent, well, Senators are either a lot more adventurous, or a lot less satisfied with their jobs than other U.S. civil servants.

Which made me wonder – from a management perspective, because we are their bosses, after all -- what can be done to increase senatorial job satisfaction?

It’s a question that would have engaged the imaginations of the Constitution’s Framers, because they saw continuity of service in the Senate as a public good. In Madison’s description (from Federalist 63), the Senate would serve as the “select and stable member of the government” and embody a sense of the nation’s best interests that could “never be sufficiently possessed by a numerous and changeable body.”

Needless to say, longevity of service was perceived then, as it is now, as a double-edged sword. The Constitution’s critics accused the Framers of creating a senatorial aristocracy.

We’ll leave for another post, today’s debate over repeal of the 17th Amendment and whether we’d all be better off having our senators appointed by state legislatures, as the Framers originally intended, or electing them ourselves, as we’ve done since 1913.

For now, suffice it to say that We the People are the hiring managers, and if, as the Framers conceived, long-term service in the Senate promotes the health of the republic, then improving the retention rate is on us.

And what’s the number one management tip for retaining key employees? Select the right people in the first place. According to Susan M. Heathfield, a human resources writer, “The right person, in the right seat, on the right bus is the starting point.”

So come 2012, let’s do what any manager at McDonald’s or Goldman Sachs would do: Vet our prospective hires thoroughly and take our responsibility to select the most qualified candidates seriously.

Photo by Flickr user bgottsab


Sign up for our email newsletter