Report on the Organizational Climates of Congress

dc.contributor.authorHanges, Paul J
dc.contributor.authorLee, Frances
dc.contributor.authorMiler, Kristina
dc.contributor.authorWessel, Jennifer
dc.description.abstractThe aim of this study is to gain a better understanding of Congress by attending to how the people who serve in the institution perceive Congress’ procedures, norms and expectations for their behavior. What are the “unwritten rules” that members and staff come to understand as they experience the institution? What types of behaviors are rewarded and encouraged inside Congress? How do these shared organizational perceptions and practices, in turn, shape how members of Congress work with other members, both within and between the two major parties? We took an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the climate and culture of Congress. We conducted 60 interviews with either former Members of Congress or House staff members. We found that the reward structure inside congressional parties is oriented around relationships. Results: The Structure of Intraparty Rewards Members advance in influence via their success in cultivating the esteem of their colleagues. This entails developing a reputation for expertise and integrity. But it also means building a social network by doing favors for others, especially fundraising. Members are seen as not considerate of others or unwilling to be “team players” have difficulty rising in influence. Individual members generally advance their standing in the party by building consensus rather than winning conflicts. But coalitions of members can gain greater weight within their party by being seen as winning conflicts. The central importance of relationships in Congress is consistent with patterns prevailing in fluid organizations more generally. The Climate of Intraparty Conflict and Cooperation Nearly all respondents described themselves as feeling free to speak up when they disagreed with their party leaders, though certain norms govern and restrain such behavior. In particular, disagreements with leaders should be raised in private or in party caucus but not in public or the press, though there was also recognition that not all members adhered to this norm. Similarly, verbal disagreement with party leaders is accepted, but active resistance of the party is frowned upon and subject to sanction. Tolerance of intraparty dissent is reasonably high, but members do at times experience pressure to go along with leaders, particularly on highly salient issues central to the party’s program. The Climate of Interparty Conflict and Cooperation Our findings paint a somewhat mixed picture of the state of cooperation across the aisle in Congress, where elements of collaborative and dominating culture are evident. Our interviews also reveal that on issues that are less visible and less important to the parties, working across the aisle to achieve “win-win” outcomes is considered possible and common even in today’s Congress. Many legislators and staff members are interested in working with colleagues across the aisle and have experience doing so. Moreover, clear paths lead to interpersonal cooperation, namely serving together on a committee, personal friendships, and common district interests.en_US
dc.description.sponsorship1. William and Flora Hewlett Foundation 2. The Democracy Funden_US
dc.identifier.citation• Hanges, P.J., Lee, F., Miler, K., & Wessel, J. (2019). Report on the organizational climates of congress. Report provided to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Democracy Fund.en_US
dc.relation.isAvailableAtCollege of Behavioral & Social Sciencesen_us
dc.relation.isAvailableAtDigital Repository at the University of Marylanden_us
dc.relation.isAvailableAtUniversity of Maryland (College Park, MD)en_us
dc.subjectU.S. Congressen_US
dc.subjectClimate for cooperationen_US
dc.subjectClimate for conflicten_US
dc.subjectOrganizational Climateen_US
dc.subjectOrganizational Cultureen_US
dc.titleReport on the Organizational Climates of Congressen_US


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