Members of Congress are provided with an office and staff on Capitol Hill to help them fulfill their duties to their constituents. Staff in these offices are government employees, and so all hiring and promotion must follow the usual rules against discrimination, nepotism and corruption. Members are permitted to have preferential hiring policies only with regard to a person's home state and political party. The House rules state:
"A Member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall not discharge or refuse to hire any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex (including marital or parental status), handicap, age, or national origin, but may take into consideration the domicile or political affiliation of such individual."
This rule generally follows the equal employment standards of other businesses, but allows for Members to specifically hire employees who are familiar and involved in the Member's district and who will want to work with the Member on partisan issues.
As government employees, staff members must only do official business while on their workday. Doing personal errands or campaign work for Members is not allowed, although staff may choose to work on campaigns on their own time as long as such work does not interfere with their official duties.
Allowances are granted to Representatives and Senators for the costs of running their offices and performing other official duties. The House and Senate have different systems for the allowances granted to each Member for official expenses.
In the House, an amount (which varies depending on the area being represented) is appropriated to cover personnel costs (up to 18 full-time employees), office expenses (for travel costs, office space, and equipment), and a franking privilege (a mail allowance for official Congressional business). Funds can be diverted from one expense category to another but cannot be used for personal expenses or campaign expenses, and Members are not allowed to accept private donations to cover the costs of managing their official duties. An allowance is also provided for one trip to a conference per year. Total appropriations in 2004 ranged from $701,136 to $1,636,750.
The Senate has a similar system, but with different monetary limits. For personnel, a variable amount is provided for administrative help based on the size of the state while a fixed amount is provided for paying three Legislative Assistants. Office expenses are combined with an official mail account with a set dollar limit to cover official business costs. Senators can distribute the funds received to cover all official expenses at their own discretion. Senators have several other allowances for official use that cover such requirements as office furniture and office space. Total appropriations ranged from $2,264,345 to $3,751,995 in 2004.