I Want Your Job: Congressional Deputy Chief of Staff

I Want Your Job: Congressional Deputy Chief of Staff

1

Swing, left, with her cousin on the Capitol steps.

Honors College alum Lauren Swing ’11 wasted no time after graduation – the political science major jumped head first into her field, taking on campaign finance for then-congressional-candidate Rick Allen  and working her way up by managing varied aspects of congressional campaigns from Florida and Georgia to Capitol Hill. Now, as deputy chief of staff for Congressman Allen, Swing contends politics are a mix between House of Cards and Veep – both dramatically strategic and, at times, comically absurd.

Learn all about Swing’s position in her I Want Your Job Q&A below, and read more I Want Your Job profiles here!

Q: What are your responsibilities as Deputy Chief of Staff for Congressman Allen?

A: As Deputy Chief of Staff, I manage the daily operations of Congressman Allen’s Washington, D.C. office, including monitoring congressional activities, Congressman Allen’s schedule and his legislative projects.

I meet with constituents, lobbyists, and government officials on behalf of Congressman Allen and represent our office in place of the congressman when appropriate. I approve all correspondence that leaves our office such as legislative letters and press releases.

I am also responsible for vote recommendations, recommendations for bill co-sponsorship, letters, and floor statements in the following issue portfolio: Foreign Affairs, International Finance, Transportation and Infrastructure, Homeland Security, Immigration, Judiciary (which includes Social Issues, Crime and Law Enforcement, and 2nd amendment legislation), and Government Operations and Politics. I also help brief the congressman on issues that occur during the day.

Swing with Congressman Paul Ryan.

Swing with Congressman Paul Ryan.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: I love the flexibility and dynamic nature of working in politics. Working in the House of Representatives—similar to working on a campaign—is fast-paced. You have to be able to handle the challenges that come to you on the job while still accomplishing everything you set out to do that day.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you face?

A: What I like best about the House of Representatives is also the most challenging—it’s constantly changing and often unpredictable. When you are passing multiple bills per week and thousands of bills introduced each year, and staff members are each responsible for five or six issue areas, it is sometimes hard to be able to dig in and research topics that interest you.

Q: Where do you spend most of your time? In Washington, D.C., on the road or elsewhere?

A: During my time as Congressman Allen’s campaign manager I was based out of Augusta, Ga., but spent a good portion of that time traveling throughout our 19-county district. Now I am based out of the Washington, D.C. office, but normally travel back to Georgia once a month or every other month.

Q: How does your job differ during election years?

A: For the past two election cycles, I have bounced between working on campaigns and working on the Hill. Working on the campaign side and on the congressional side are very different.

While in my last two roles (campaign manager and deputy chief of staff) I have been intimately involved in every part of the operation, working on a campaign is much more focused on the individual candidate and their opponent. Both require reading the political environment and messaging appropriately, but Congress is much more centered on the ‘news of the day’ and finding a legislative fix, while campaigns have the flexibility of only messaging in campaign talking points.

Campaigning requires a lot of individual meetings with key movers and shakers throughout the district, while Congress requires more time spent touring facilities to help solve legislative and regulatory problems businesses are facing.

Q: What was your career path? How did you land on this position?

4

Swing, second-from-left, with Rick Allen’s campaign team and with Congressmen Joe Wilson and Paul Ryan.

A: After college, I moved to Augusta, Georgia to serve as the finance director for then-candidate Rick Allen’s first campaign for Congress. Right after graduating college and having studied political science in school, it had never occurred to me that a campaign would require money… a lot of money.

After Congressman Allen lost a runoff election by only about 150 votes, I moved to Florida to manage then-Congressman Allen West’s campaign office in West Palm Beach. I oversaw the grassroots strategy for Palm Beach County, and recruited volunteers for door-to-door campaigning and phone banking. I coordinated and oversaw a 144-hour Get-Out-the-Vote deployment operation with 30 deployed volunteers, as well as volunteers within the county. That race was one of the top races in the country with a very close vote count. I assisted in an intense post-election recount effort.

After working in fundraising and grassroots on the campaign, I wanted to get more experience in communications and policy so I moved to Washington, D.C. to work for Congressman Austin Scott. I was his communications assistant/staff assistant and assisted in writing constituent letters, floor speeches, as well as answering phones, greeting guests, and coordinating tours for constituents. It was a great experience to get my feet wet in the inner-workings of Capitol Hill.

In June 2013, Congressman Allen called and asked me to come back to be the campaign manager for his second congressional campaign. I maintained oversight over a $2.5 million budget and developed and executed grassroots, media, fundraising, messaging, and digital strategy. I also wrote a comprehensive campaign plan, detailing a win strategy.

After the campaign was over, I was thinking about what I wanted to do next and the congressman asked me to continue working with him and serve as his deputy chief of staff. I helped set up the congressman’s office during the transition and have continued working to build up his office operations as a newly elected member.

Q: Is working in politics anything like what we see on TV shows like House of Cards or Scandal? If so, how?

Swing's photo of the Capitol Building.

Swing’s photo of the Capitol Building.

A: The general consensus on what I’ve heard is that most people think politics is like House of Cards. Political operatives wish politics was like the West Wing, but really, government is a lot like Veep. Similar to Scandal, fires pop up that have to be solved quickly and quietly.

A lot of the situations that occur are comical. For example, a colleague of mine was telling me a story about how a former constituent in his area once rode in a horse and buggy to Washington, D.C. to meet with his congressman and, once arrived, left his horses in the Capitol fountain to drink water.  A lot of staffers in politics on and off the Hill have similar stories of their own… It definitely keeps things interesting!

Q: How did the College help you prepare for this position?

A: While I was at the College of Charleston, I had the opportunity to study abroad and intern at the Scottish Parliament. Having started out as a biology major, politics was foreign to me. The 2008 election occurred during my sophomore year at the College and really sparked my interest in the political process. The College always encouraged me to study abroad and learn more about Scotland, so it was a great opportunity to explore two of my passions. The rest was history.

By having great teaching mentors, I was also able to double major in English (with honors) and political science and double minor in both international and British studies while also graduating from the Honors College.

Q: What advice would you offer to current students?

A: I would advise current students to take advantage of every opportunity they can. What made my experience at the College of Charleston was being involved in a lot of great organizations, which, in turn, allowed me to meet a lot of intelligent and motivated people.

Take advantage of internships that will help you determine what you would like to do after college—they also are great networking. Most of all, take the time to find out what will make you want to get out of bed every day. College is a time to explore your interests and prepare for your career—take advantage of it.