Center for Effective Lawmaking

CEL presentation to the LEGIS Congressional Fellows

CEL presentation to the LEGIS Congressional Fellows

On February 23, 2024, the Center for Effective Lawmaking (CEL) gave our annual presentation to the LEGIS Congressional Fellowship program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. The LEGIS program is composed of a bipartisan group of professionals from government agencies selected by offices in both chambers of Congress to learn about the lawmaking process and serve as subject-matter policy experts for legislators. As in previous years, co-directors Craig Volden and Alan Wiseman (of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia and the Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, respectively) started the discussion with the more than two dozen fellows by providing an overview of the CEL and highlighting the Legislative Effectiveness Scores (LES) to show how individual lawmakers were measured based on their abilities to move legislation. They then explained how the findings from the LES are the basis for the principles outlined in the CEL’s New Member Guide, which are used as a resource for members of Congress and their staff.

The presentation was divided into two sessions, with the first focused on how offices DEFINE their lawmaking agendas. This mnemonic refers to the individual attributes that lawmakers should internalize when crafting their legislative agenda:

The co-directors discussed these attributes in detail and concluded with a breakout session, where the LEGIS fellows split into groups and were asked “To what extent are the proposals you seek to advance aligned for success?” and “What to do if not?” This allowed the fellows to talk about their personal experiences working in their respective offices, the challenges they faced, and what could be improved to enhance their goals.

The second session revolved around another mnemonic: ENGAGE. This refers to how lawmakers and their offices need to connect with partners to push their legislative agendas forward:

The co-directors once again discussed these attributes in detail and ended with another breakout session, where participants were asked “Which potential partners have been most difficult to ENGAGE with on top lawmaking priorities?” and “What to do now?” The fellows then spoke from their personal experiences about what could be done to enhance stakeholder engagement.

During and after these sessions, the fellows asked critical questions about the research done on the legislative process, including: the relative importance of personal experience, seniority, and being a committee chair; how the generalization of legislative portfolios has impacted overall effectiveness; how much impact individual staffers make; and the role played by political action committees (PACs). In addition, they spoke about their offices and emphasized how they advance their legislative agendas, including: being actively involved in the hiring process, traveling as a form of promotion, creating a culture of getting bills that are important to their constituents through the process (even if they do not ultimately become law), and using bipartisanship behind the scenes.

The CEL is once again grateful for the opportunity to present to this distinguished group and get to know their thoughts and experiences about working in Congress. We greatly appreciate their engagement and look forward to hearing about their future endeavors.

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