Buenos Aires Hours | The Arguments for Streamlining Congress
The German parliament has 709 members assisted by around 7,000 employees, half of whom are permanent staff of the Bundestag, while the other half come and go with each legislator. According to data from the 2021 budget, Argentina’s legislative branch has almost double the number of employees in Germany (13,930) with less than half of the seats (329). In 2018, the Congress total was even higher, peaking at 16,196 after former Vice President Amado Boudou incorporated 1,744 employees into Senate staff in 2014 and 2015, bringing it to 6,081.
According to Argentina’s 2020 budget, two-thirds of congressional employees are permanent and the rest transient (that is, their employment ends with the term of the legislator who appoints them). In addition, the legislator can hire assistants with tax status of self-employed paying their own social contributions and not receiving Christmas or mid-year bonuses – in general, they are commission advisers.
As the mid-terms are underway, one wonders how Argentina’s deputies and senators can implement reforms nationwide if they cannot tidy up their own homes. For example, how can Congress analyze and vote on the national budget without considering its own? Information is available and deserves to be discussed in the context of the budget discussion. For example, the Senate offers fairly detailed information on its human resources, making it possible to identify and discuss their number.
According to the Senate website on August 4, this information concerns, for example, 118 employees of the “Dirección de Automotores” department, while in serious countries only the higher authorities have their own cars and drivers. 290 others are employed by the “Dirección de Seguridad y Control”, while the other areas are personnel administration (89 employees), communication (72), institutional communication (16), events (46), maintenance (186), the Malvinas Islands (55), Publications (58), Accounting (37), Accounting and budget (19) Technological infrastructure (85), General services (349), Culture (19) and Coordination of crèches (47 ) while 149 are “En Comisión,” 52 with “work in progress” and 67 on “unpaid leave”.
Among all these people, none have been economically affected by the pandemic and some have even found additional jobs. The list even includes six employees in the bizarre “Radical – Term expired” category.
The 72 senators of the upper house are also individually assigned to 1,493 employees in total, an average of 20 each, to which must be added 207 caucus employees in total, more than half (105) of whom work for radical lawmakers.
Information on human resources in the Chamber of Deputies is not as transparent as in the Senate – for example, it does not specify which caucus each employee is assigned to.
Nevertheless, consulted by e-mail, the Oficina de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública of the lower house replied: “It is always a great help to receive observations and comments to continue to improve the work within bedroom. Regarding the points mentioned in your email, we inform you that we have taken note of them and that we are currently working on them in order to be able to present updated information similar to that presented by the Honorable Senate of the Nation.
Even with more cumbersome access, the consultation of the website of the Chamber of Deputies on February 25 revealed that their staff amounted to 4,985, including 2,617 permanent, 1,977 temporary, 305 contractual and 86 attached to the Cabinet ( the latter on the basis of a resolution from the beginning of last year in which the appointment ends with the term of the person for whom they were appointed).
The breakdown of employees of the lower house is similar to that of the Senate – Commissions (367), Automobiles (139), Culture (70), Maintenance (166), Security and control (227), Administration and accounting (91), Diplomacy and International Cooperation (30); Archives and Publications (30), Computer System (100), Planning and Dissemination (67), Human Resources (126), Child Care (62) and General Services (289).
Employees assigned to members of Parliament total 2,225, or an average of 8.5 each. Of the approximately 14,000 congressional employees, 3,718 are assigned to national legislators, or 26% of the total. If this is compared to Germany, it emerges that there is at least 50 percent overstaffing among the employees of the Argentine Congress, even with half of the legislators in the Bundestag.
The excessive number of Congressional employees is a problem that goes back a long way. Between 1900 and 1930, when the total number of Congressional employees did not reach 500, the Socialist deputies (and some radicals) questioned their excessive number.
For example, socialist Enrique Dickmann stressed that “calling on employees for their political commitments is neither fair nor practical” while his party comrade Nicolás Repetto justified the need to lay off the staff of Congress by asserting: ” I believe that graduated men of value will find an opportunity to apply their skills, if they have any, or to develop new ones in professions much more noble than this one.
At the time, the Senate was already the target of major criticism. In 1914, Socialist deputy Antonio de Tomaso declared: “The Senate budget is one of the most lush in this administration, paying the highest salaries with the most arbitrary and parasitic appointments. And I call parasites those employees whose job description nobody understands and who do not perform any useful, clear, concrete or specific task.
One only needs to read the departments and the number of employees in the current Senate to understand that what De Tomaso said over a century ago is still valid.
Reform to make Congress more transparent means modernizing it and ending its privileges, which will generate resistance from unions and old-fashioned politicians. But the same could be said in almost any national administration needing reform, hence the importance of starting in the house of democracy itself, in Congress.
Following the constitutional reform of 1994 and the adoption of certain laws, new bodies were created within Congress. Only one of them, the Budget Department, is staffed by competition and has 18 people. What is established in Article 16 of the National Constitution and Article 21.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – namely the principles of fitness and equality before the law – has not been applied to entry into the permanent staff of Congress.
A meritocratic department within the Congress is Parliamentary Information, dependent on the Chamber of Deputies with 39 permanent employees. You can entrust them with a comparative report on human resources in different parliaments, the criteria for entering permanent staff and the allocation of resources to legislators, including their assistants. In the meantime, they could start by freezing the vacancies of permanent agents, as is done in Chile, by establishing that henceforth all positions of this type will be covered by competition on the basis of an objective profile.
Following the Australian example, Congress should establish mechanisms to prevent nepotism as there is an unacceptable tradition from any Republican perspective of appointing direct relatives, both lawmakers and senior executives.
“How am I not going to give my son a job,” shamelessly affirmed a former official of the Chamber of Deputies, already retired, consulted on the staff of his administrative district.
We must put an end to all generosity at the expense of the taxpayer, by eliminating subsidies, scholarships and pensions, sources of political favoritism. One has to wonder about the existence of a congressional printing press, already nicknamed “Trojan horse” by the Socialist deputies at the time of its creation, to know how many parliaments have something similar, especially in this era. digital with environmental questioning. The same goes for the army of typists, designed for other times, because now we can tape and then simply have the staff to transcribe the sessions and committee meetings.
If a reform involving a more rational allocation of Congress resources cannot be implemented, it is difficult to think that the rest of the country’s administration can be modernized. But as Dickmann wisely observed over a century ago: “It would be much easier to organize a revolution than to remove an employee from the national budget.