08/07/2012 04:19 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2012

Experience and Age Mismatch on Capitol Hill?

Can age and experience help explain the current state of national affairs in our nation's capital? New data on the gap between the ages and years of experience of congressional staff, and the lobbyists who attempt to influence them, might draw that conclusion.

The recent landmark Congressional Communications Report might help explain our quagmire of public policy. It appears that congressional staff are both young and new in their careers, while the lobbyists who seek to influence them are substantially older and have more than a decade and a half of experience in their lobbying positions.

The survey involved 716 congressional staff and 2,210 lobbyists. The margin of error for Hill staff was +/- 3.6 percent. The margin of error for lobbyists was +/- 2.0 percent. Those margins of error simply tell us that the statistical results of the study represent the overall population of congressional staff and those in the lobbying community.

First, some interesting demographic data. By gender, 55 percent of congressional staff is male; 45 percent is female. Congressional staff is almost evenly divided by party, with 46 percent as self-identified Republicans; 45 percent as Democrats. Less than 9 percent of Hill staff describe themselves as either Independent or non-affiliated.

In contrast, the same demographics are much different for the lobbying community. Lobbyists are overwhelmingly male, 62 percent versus 38 percent. They are also more Democratic by a significant margin with 44 percent of lobbyists self-identified as Democrats, 30 percent as Republicans and 26 percent consider themselves either as Independent or non-affiliated. The partisan breakdown of the lobbying community might be explained by the fact the Democrats currently control the administration and the U.S. Senate. As a longtime Washington observer, I find the margin a bit surprising as Republicans controlled the Congress and the administration during the Bush years only a few years ago.

But let's look specifically at age and years of experience.

Age comparison of Congressional Staff (denoted as CS) and Lobbyists (denoted as L):

18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 Over 65
CS 12% 39% 18% 15% 13% 4%
L 1% 16% 20% 24% 30% 9%

As you can see, 51 percent of Hill staff is under 35. Less than one-third are over 46 years of age. Contrast the young, post college graduates working on the Hill with the much older lobbyists who want to influence them. Almost 40 percent of lobbyists are 56 years old or older while 63 percent are over 46 years of age.

The data below reflects the differing years of service of Congressional Staff (denoted as CS) in comparison to those of Lobbyists (denoted as L):

<1.5 years 1.5- 3 4-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 15 years >

CS 24% 22% 19% 10% 6% 4% 14%
L 2% 7% 13% 11% 12% 8% 48%

The data reveals that nearly 50 percent of congressional staff has worked on Capitol Hill 36 months or less while 65 percent worked six years or less. Contrast that with the fact that less than 9 percent of lobbyists worked 36 months or less and 21 percent worked six years or less. And almost 50 percent have worked as lobbyists for more than 15 years.

The data simply suggests there is a wide experience gap between congressional staff and lobbyists.

So it is not surprising when asked if lobbyists were influential, 78 percent of Hill staff said they were. Only 1.1 percent suggested they have no influential at all.

The men and women who work on Capitol Hill work hard for their respective member of Congress and for the American people. But do lobbyists, who are both older and more experienced in their jobs, have an advantage by their years of being "seasoned" in the ways of Washington? The answer appears to be yes.

If congressional staff were older and stayed at their jobs longer, would we lose the idealism and youthful energy of those working on Capitol Hill every day?

Despite the mismatch, my vote is for the idealism and youthful energy. Perhaps our less "seasoned" staff can bring paradigm shifting ideas to make our national government work better.