Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

The best bosses in an unusual work environment: Capitol Hill

Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Don Bacon

Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Rep. Don Bacon won the "Life in Congress" award from the Congressional Management Foundation.

Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

Our nation’s capital is known for many things — but good management practices are not among them. Stories regularly surface of bizarre tales of harassment and abuse by members of Congress. An Instagram feed a few years ago unearthed dozens of stories by staff outing less-than-desirable managers and members for their bad practices. But what about the good leaders and good managers?

Like any profession, Congress actually has quite a few exemplary office leaders. And the beneficiaries of these role models are not just their staff — it’s also their constituents. When a congressional office can retain great talent, sometimes over decades, the quality of the final legislative product or constituent service rises immensely.

Two members of Congress who exemplify this quality are the winners of the 2024 Congressional Management Foundation’s Democracy Award for Workplace Environment — the “Life in Congress Award.”

The Democratic winner, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), has a saying she repeats to her team: “What’s the point in working for a senator’s office if you can’t work to improve things you care about?” She’s passionate about hiring staff with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences because she truly values hearing about issues and solutions from as many perspectives as possible. She also knows that if her staff succeeds, the state of Illinois and her constituents will succeed as well. To that end, the office hosts yearly staff retreats and conducts quarterly formal check-ins for staff to connect and communicate with their supervisors. The office set up a novel year-long mentorship program that includes matching a new staffer with a longer-tenured employee for confidential advice and guidance. The program also provides formal training and monthly group check-ins.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

The office boasts a “passion projects” initiative, which encourages staffers to spend time on projects they are passionate about regardless of their portfolio. Additionally, the office has a dedicated staff member who leads a diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility committee, which hosts “lunch and learns” with guest speakers and helps ensure that the office and the senator herself are approaching their work through a DEIA lens. The Duckworth has also worked hard to make sure that staff who are caregivers for family members feel supported, as she is always cognizant of the pressures staff in similar circumstances to hers are facing.

The Republican winner, Rep. Don Bacon (Neb.), operates his office with the understanding that if you put your people first and empower them, they will put the mission first. His office offers benefits include a flexible telework policy, compensatory time off and three office-sanctioned fitness breaks per week. The office has the best staff retention rate and the smallest turnover index number in the entire Nebraska delegation, and 11 staff members have served since Bacon’s first term over seven years ago.

The ability to focus on the mission in an open-door and collaborative environment is one of the primary reasons that the congressman also was recognized by the Center for Effective Lawmaking as the most effective Republican House member in the previous Congress — and why he is a previous Democracy Award winner (for the best constituent services). At any given point, there are almost always staff members enrolled in educational programs at the graduate level. In addition, the office frequently helps staff members get accepted into various fellowship programs. The office staff work with interns on actual legislative matters and the robust internship program also includes multiple one-day field trips, hosted by the chief of staff, to locations such as the National War College and Annapolis for the purposes of gaining a broader understanding of the history of American government and its various departments.

Probably one of the most amazing anecdotes about the Bacon office stemmed from one of staffer’s brush with death. Suffering from a rare disease, the staffer needed a new liver. Four of his office colleagues (including Bacon) offered to donate. That kind of esprit de corps doesn’t happen by accident, and the intentionality of Bacon and his team to create the best work environment results in a better workforce and better results for his constituents.

It may be hard to connect a well-run government office with tangible benefits for constituents, but I can attest to seeing first-hand accounts of this happening daily, especially during the pandemic. When constituents badly needed services, some facing nearly life-and-death choices, the seasoned, well-run congressional offices delivered, making a huge difference for the people they serve.

Read More

Isaac Cramer
Issue One

Meet the Faces of Democracy: Isaac Cramer

Minkin is a research associate at Issue One. Van Voorhis is a research intern at Issue One.

More than 10,000 officials across the country run U.S. elections. This interview is part of a series highlighting the election heroes who are the faces of democracy.

South Carolinian Isaac Cramer developed a passion for politics and elections at a young age, witnessing his mother cast her first vote after achieving her long-standing dream of American citizenship. He joined the Charleston County Board of Voter Registration and Elections in 2014 and began serving as its executive director in March 2021. He oversees election administration for more than 300,000 registered voters in South Carolina’s third most populous county. Charleston spans along the state’s southern coast and shares a name with the largest city in the state, where Cramer resides.

Cramer, who is not affiliated with any political party, has received prestigious honors for his extensive efforts to reform election administration and ensure elections are fair and secure. He earned a Clearinghouse Award from the Election Assistance Commission in 2022 and the J. Mitchell Graham Memorial Award from the South Carolina Association of Counties in 2023. He is also a two-time recipient of the state’s Carolina’s Excellence in Elections award. Earlier this summer, he was appointed president of the South Carolina Association of Registration and Election Officials.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

Keep ReadingShow less
Secret Service agents covering Trump

Secret service agents cover former President Donald Trump after he was wounded in an assassination attempt July 13.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Violence lives in all of us

Molineaux is the lead catalyst for American Future, a research project that discovers what Americans prefer for their personal future lives. The research informs community planners with grassroots community preferences. Previously, Molineaux was the president/CEO of The Bridge Alliance.

Whenever we or our loved ones are harmed, it is our human tendency to seek vengeance. Violence begets violence. Violent words lead to violent actions, as we’ve witnessed in the assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump.

The violence of the gunman is his alone.

Our response to violence is about us.

Keep ReadingShow less
Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley

Rep. Gus Bilirakis and Rep. Ayanna Pressley won the Congressional Management Foundation's Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility.

Official portraits

Some leaders don’t want to be held accountable. These two expect it.

Fitch is president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

There is probably no more important concept in the compact between elected officials and those who elect them than accountability. One of the founding principles of American democracy is that members of Congress are ultimately accountable to their constituents, both politically and morally. Most members of Congress get this, but how they demonstrate and implement that concept varies. The two winners of the Congressional Management Foundation’s Democracy Award for Constituent Accountability and Accessibility clearly understand and excel at this concept.

Keep ReadingShow less
Woman speaking at a microphone

Rep. Lucy McBath is the first lawmaker from Georgia to win a Democracy Awarrd.

Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Surprise: Some great public servants are actually members of Congress

Fitch is the president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and a former congressional staffer.

TheCongressional Management Foundation today announced the winners of the seventh annual Democracy Awards, CMF’s program recognizing non-legislative achievement and performance in congressional offices and by members of Congress. Two members of Congress, one Democrat and one Republican, are recognized in four categories related to their work in Congress.

Americans usually only hear about Congress when something goes wrong. The Democracy Awards shines a light on Congress when it does something right. These members of Congress and their staff deserve recognition for their work to improve accountability in government, modernize their work environments and serve their constituents.

Keep ReadingShow less

Can George Washington inspire Biden to greatness?

Clancy is co-founder of Citizen Connect and board member of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund. Citizen Connect is an initiative of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund, which also operates The Fulcrum.

King George III reputedly said George Washington was the greatest man in the world for voluntarily relinquishing power. The indisputable fact is that Washington’s action remains remarkable in human history. And he actually did it at least two times.

On Dec. 23, 1783, Washington resigned his commission as commander of the Continental Army and returned to Mount Vernon. He did it again when he declined to run for a third term as president by publishing his Farewell Address on Sept. 19, 1796. In June 1799 Washington was yet again urged to run for president and declined.

His reasoning on each occasion was a complex mix of the personal and political, but the bedrock was an unwavering commitment to put the good of the nation above personal gain and the factions that would ultimately become our toxic party system.

Keep ReadingShow less