I supposed you might consider them the trappings of power, but I have been fascinated by the tools of the trade as a Senate Fellow that provide me with access and privilege.
First is the ID badge that identifies me as a Senate staffer. That badge gives me access to every “Authorized Personnel Only” door in the Capitol with the exception of “Senators Only” or “Members Only” entrances. It allows me to access the tunnels between the office buildings and the Capitol without clearing security, and it allows me to bring whatever I want into the Capitol and to avoid the usual food and drink prohibition. I can take books out of the Senate library as well.
Congressional staffers from personal offices all communicate via the ubiquitous Blackberry, which generally serve as mobile email devices more than phones. Vote recommendations can be communicated via Blackberry to the Senator on the chamber Floor during rapid fire voting sessions, and a staffer at a hearing will send email updates almost like a Twitter feed to let the Senator’s Scheduler know the progress of the events and when the Senator must arrive to take his turn for questions.
Because staff positions require taking numerous meetings with lobbyists and constituents, having business cards is critical to participate in this ritual. I usually have several extras tucked in with my ID in case I forget to bring some. All of the Congressional business cards look pretty much the same, so I have a large stack of governmental cards from the people I met when I did placement. I hadn’t much thought about the contrast to the cards used by non-government people until I took a meeting off the Hill, which was attended largely by industry representatives. I was handed cards with crazy colors, wild fonts, bold logos, and two-sided designs. In return, I simply laid down my card adorned only by the embossed gold eagle. That understated elegance conveyed a power and influence that immediately trumped everything a highly paid design shop could produce. Yes, it made me feel just a little bit smug.
The one difference that Fellows experience in contrast to our staffer colleagues is that because we are not directly employed by the Senate, we do not have automatic authorization to go out on the Senate Floor to staff our Senators. Often when a Senator is giving a speech, a staff member will come along to carry large pictures or simply be available for assistance. That authority to enter the main body of the Senate chamber is known as “floor privileges.” For a Fellow to be allowed onto the Floor, the Senator must ask for unanimous consent to give a Fellow floor privileges. The Fellow’s name is thus permanently in the Congressional Record, the daily transcript of everything that is said officially in the Senate chamber.
This past Thursday, Senator Bennet was giving a speech on the Floor, and without telling us, the Legislative Director and my Legislative Assistant wrote the piece for Senator Bennet to request unanimous consent for the three Fellows in his office to receive Floor privileges for the remainder of the Session, ie. for the duration of the 113th Congress. We were watching the speech on C-Span, so when the Senator made the request, the two of us Fellows who were in the office at the moment cheered. The third Fellow was at a hearing doing the aforementioned Twitter feed-like reports, so we emailed her to share the moment.
I have yet to get out on the Floor to staff the Senator, but I stand ready to serve!