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Capitol Hill Staffers Go Job Hunting


More than 1,000 employees of the United States Congress are out of work because their employers -- members of Congress -- either lost their bids for re-election or retired. Take, for example, the people working for Illinois Congressman Phil Crane.

On election night in November, Mr. Crane and his 20 employees gathered at a suburban Chicago restaurant to watch the returns on TV. After 35 years in the House of Representatives, the lawmaker and his staffers thought for sure he'd be re-elected to serve another two-year term.

He wasn't. Press secretary Tami Stough recalls that night with a sad shake of her head. "As the votes were coming in that night and the numbers were being revealed, we were stunned," she says. "We sat in stunned disbelief as precinct after precinct reported and we realized we were not going to be victorious."

Every one of her colleagues was crying. "We could not control the tears," Ms. Stough says. "All I really wanted to do was be in the ladies' room, crying."

Most Congressional staffers realize that working on Capitol Hill does not offer long-term job security. With elections every two years for each seat in the House of Representatives, and Senators up for re-election every six, the legislative assistants, press secretaries, receptionists and researchers have to remain flexible. But Tami Stough says she feels as if she is losing more than a job. She'll miss being in the U.S. Capitol -- the stately, domed building that sits on a hill -- where lawmakers debate policy, draft laws, and make history.

"When you walk the hallways of Capitol Hill, when you walk in the Capitol, and see the dome and Statuary Hall," Ms. Stough says, "you get a sense of, 'I am in the seat of the most powerful nation in the world. This is where history is made, in these hallowed halls.' It's not an office building. It's not a corporate center. This is a real place of history, purpose, and meaning. It's not easy to walk away from that, knowing you are sitting, working and living so close to the heart of the power of this great nation."

Many of the staffers who lost jobs as a result of the election are looking for work in other congressional offices because they enjoy being part of the nation's history. But Tami Stough has decided to look elsewhere - saying that a job on the Hill is too much of an "emotional roller coaster."

She has yet to determine what else she might do. "I told my husband the other day," says Ms. Stough, "'Let's buy that property over there and build an inn.' He looked at me [and said], 'Why would we do that?' I thought of maybe going back to school. Everything is on the table for us right now."

Capitol Hill staffers hope the uncertainty of their job search will end soon - before the next session of Congress begins in January.

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