Legislation & policy analysis

FY22 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill a step forward but misses key opportunities to strengthen the Senate

This week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations released its fiscal year (FY) 2022 Legislative Branch funding bill. This appropriations package includes the items approved by the House in H.R. 4346 — its funding bill released in June — and adds $1.1 billion in funding for the operations of the Senate. 

While it makes investments in the institution of Congress, the appropriations bill misses some key opportunities to improve operations and support congressional staff. Issue One made recommendations to both the House and Senate Subcommittees on Legislative Branch Appropriations, and, in April, Meredith McGehee submitted testimony to the House Subcommittee elaborating on these recommendations.

Here are some of the notable provisions in this year’s Legislative Branch funding bill and its accompanying explanatory statement:

Staff Pay: 

  • What’s there: The FY22 funding bill funds the Senators’ Official Personnel and Office Expense Account, or SOPOEA, at more than $486 million. This is the budget that Senate offices use to compensate their staff, run district offices, lease office equipment and perform official duties. The Senate also followed in the steps of the House by raising the maximum salary for top Senate staff from $173,900 to $199,300, a move that should help the institution retain staff and institutional knowledge.
  • What’s missing: While the FY22 appropriations is a $25 million increase over last year’s amount, it falls about $5 million short of what was requested. And while an increase in pay for top Senate staff is a step in the right direction, the bill does little to address the poor entry-level salary levels that prevent Congress from attracting a diverse and capable workforce.

Intern Pay: 

  • What’s there: The bill provides $7 million for Senate intern pay, an increase of $1 million over FY21 funding levels. This equates to an average of $70,000 for each Senate office. In its third year, the program has made a tangible difference in fairly compensating interns for their service, with 88 percent of Senators’ offices accessing the fund to pay interns last fiscal year. 
  • What’s missing: However, the bill did not create a similar fund for interns who work on Senate committees, as the House has done, nor did it set a requirement that all interns — including interns in district offices — be paid the local minimum wage. It also missed the recommendations from groups like Issue One calling for the creation of a Senate Intern Resource Office. This office would be tasked with recruitment, coordination, and promotion of best practices to maximize how the Senate hires and utilizes interns.

Senate Diversity

  • What’s there: As an institution, the Senate cannot represent all constituents if it doesn’t have a staff that is representative of those constituents. To this goal, the bill report language establishes a bipartisan Senate Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. This group, which pulls members from relevant offices across the House and Senate, is tasked with identifying, developing, and recommending options for improving the recruitment and retention of a diverse Senate workforce.
  • What’s missing: A Diversity and Inclusion Working Group is a positive development, but it is also a short-term initiative tasked with addressing a systemic and long-term challenge. Issue One, alongside many other organizations, called for the Senate to build on the House’s work and establish a permanent Senate Office of Diversity & Inclusion.

The FY22 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill takes meaningful, if marginal, steps toward building a more representative and efficient Senate. Issue One will continue to advocate for investment in the modernization of the legislative branch, through this year’s appropriations process and beyond.