The Diary Of A Senior Legislative Assistant On Capitol Hill

Photo: Courtesy of Imani Augustus.
Despite the US House of Representatives becoming increasingly diverse, only 13.7% of senior House staffers are people of colour, compared with 38% of the country as a whole. Organisations like Staff Up Congress, an initiative from the NALEO Educational Fund and the Joint Center, are seeking to close the gap. In this series, we profile young women participating in Staff Up.
Name: Imani Augustus
Age: 24
Originally from: Charlotte, NC
Works as: Senior legislative assistant for Rep. Tim Walz, MN-1, a Democrat
Bio: Augustus has worked for Rep. Walz since 2015, and lends an important perspective to her office on issues like the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements. She is a mentor to other women of colour on the Hill and serves as the cofounder and outreach director of the Capitol Hill Community Service Association, which bridges the partisan gap through community service.
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Tuesday 25th September 2018
8:45 a.m. — Arrive in the parking lot outside of RHOB (the Rayburn House Office Building).
9:30 a.m. — I stand in line at Dunkin' Donuts — coffee is a must — while scrolling through unread emails and today’s Politico headlines.
9:48 a.m. — Eat breakfast and chat with office staff about our evenings. We’re all women around the same age, so we’ve affectionately named ourselves the "women of the Walz office". Rep. Walz is running for governor of Minnesota, so we’re all especially busy right now.
10:15 a.m. — Respond to senior leadership team emails about outreach on a bill rollout I am leading. As a legislative assistant, I help monitor legislation, conduct research, draft bills, and provide advice and recommendations on policies.
10:22 a.m. — Set up a coffee meeting for Friday with a legislative director for career advice. I’m ready for the next step in my career, which would be a legislative director role. I was recently accepted into Staff Up Congress’ Legislative Academy, a professional development opportunity that helps junior Hill staff members of colour step into more senior roles.
11:08 a.m. — I message a mentor of mine to ask for a sample cover letter as I begin my applications for legislative director positions. I’ve been working on tapping my networks, both through Staff Up and by reaching out to colleagues.
1:20 p.m. — Lunch at my desk while responding to emails from the National Governors Association (NGA).
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3:40 p.m. — Prep briefing memos for Rep. Walz on the meetings he’ll take while he’s here in D.C.
7 p.m. — After work today, I help out with a show at Sofar Sounds, a music company that puts on curated, intimate performances in cities around the world. We like to feature local artists who are cutting their teeth in the industry and on the verge of becoming the next big thing.
10:30 p.m. — Head out from the show and finally home for the night.

We need diverse staffers if we’re going to write legislation that reflects the real America.

Thursday 27th September 2018
8-10:15 a.m. — I’m on the Hill early for a volunteer training for The Petey Greene Program, which supports academic achievement in prison classrooms to reduce recidivism rates and build stronger communities. I will be tutoring incarcerated youth at the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Home on Saturday. I can tell this will be a passion project for me, since I cover education and judiciary policy during my day job with Rep. Walz’ office.
10:45 a.m. — Arrive at work and immediately tune into the Brett Kavanaugh hearing to watch Dr Christine Blasey Ford testify.
11:20 a.m. — Prep for a meeting with the director of Minnesota’s National Education Association. We’re covering teacher education funding, community schools, and tax reform.
11:30 a.m. — Meet with the NEA director. After we’ve wrapped, I walk her to her chat with Rep. Walz.
12:30 p.m. — Huddle with the congressman to discuss if he will participate in any votes before flying back to Minnesota. I bring him up to speed on a floor vote about protections for Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
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1:30 p.m. — Lunch at desk. Tuning back into the Kavanaugh hearing.
2:15-4 p.m. — Emails. I set up time to chat with another legislative director about a fellowship application, and plan my next visit to Minnesota with our chief of staff.
4:30 p.m. — Hop on a call with the NGA to provide info on the Small Town & Regional Vitality Investment Act, a bill that Rep. Walz introduced to provide funding for community development and infrastructure projects in small towns.
7 p.m. — At home binge-watching The Good Place on the couch. I end most days with either this or Madam Secretary, another one of my new favourites.
Friday 28th September 2018
3 p.m. — I’ve been excited for Friday because I’ll be in a Legislative Academy workshop for the afternoon. Only 14% of staffers on the Hill are people of colour, which is pretty incredible considering people of colour now make up almost 40% of the population. We need diverse staffers if we’re going to write legislation that reflects the real America.
3:30 p.m. — Head to our afternoon session. Today, we’re hearing from other legislative directors and chiefs of staff on the Hill.
3:45 p.m. — We start by covering a few big topics, including building bipartisan support for legislation and advancing your congressmember’s top legislative priorities.
4:10 p.m. — One of the key responsibilities of a legislative director is working with lobbyists. We talk about how to work with lobbyists — who often have their own agenda — while keeping our bosses’ priorities top of mind.
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4:45 p.m. — A legislative staffer’s work is often directed by which committees their congressmember is assigned to. Rep. Walz is currently assigned to the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, so I work closely on those issues. At the Legislative Academy, we talk about how to support a member who has a new committee assignment or wants to introduce new legislation via their committee.
5 p.m. — As a legislative director, I’d be responsible for hiring more junior legislative staffers for the office. We cover key assets to look for in potential hires, including their written work and ability to think critically about complicated policy issues.
5:30 p.m. — Wrap up the day’s session. I leave feeling inspired by the group. It’s exciting to know there are so many amazingly qualified young staffers of colour who are serious about growing their careers on the Hill.
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