Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Kenneth Bickers

Second Advisor

E. Scott Adler

Third Advisor

Maxwell Boykoff

Fourth Advisor

Susan E. Clarke

Fifth Advisor

Wendy Ginsberg


The world of congressional staff is largely an unseen one, both in the media and within political science. Little scholarship exists on their role in Congress, with nearly none on their role in the policy process and agenda setting. Most of the research on Congressional agenda setting and policy development ignores the role staff play in the process, assuming members do all of the work themselves and staff handle menial tasks. This dissertation looks at the role Congressional staff play in the agenda setting process in Congress. Using the data acquired from an original survey of over 500 current and former congressional staff in Washington, DC and case studies of five individual House and Senate offices, I am able to determine when and under what conditions staff are setting the agenda in Congress. Applying the principal-agent theory most often seen in bureaucracy research, I show staff come up with policy ideas and often set the policy agendas in individual offices and committees. Staff who have a better personal relationship with their bosses, have more experience, and have larger professional networks are more likely to set that policy agenda. These findings have significant implications for representative government; staff are hired to carry out the preferences of, and do much of the work we associate with, the elected members of Congress and thus, the voters.