There may be a few less young interns working on Capitol Hill this summer: A congressional internship program that would support nearly 300 summer interns has been suspended by the House as part of an effort to cut staff.
Members of Congress were notified May 16 that the Lyndon Baines Johnson internship, which has made it possible for congressional offices to hire a two-month intern each year since 1974, will not authorize funding for any more interns this year.
While the funding cut poses problems for those congressional offices that have already committed to summer interns, it is unlikely to thwart the plans of those students. Hill offices say they will find savings in other areas to pay the interns.
"We'll just look within our own budget and find a way to cut it. Maybe there's a magazine subscription we don't need, maybe we can look at those small things that add up," said Mary Fetsch of the office of Rep. Elizabeth Furse (D-Ore.).
The LBJ intern will be the only intern on Furse's staff this summer. Other offices have multiple interns, including those from university-sponsored programs, volunteers from members' districts, or paid interns from the office's personnel budget.
"It will take out one of our paid internships," said Charlie Boesel, an aide to Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.). "Four six-week internships that Bliley pays for out of his own annual staff appropriations won't be affected." In addition, Bliley's office often takes advantage of an unpaid internship program American University offers.
In anticipation of the funding cut, Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) did not hire an LBJ intern for this summer. In contrast, Rep. Scotty Baesler (D-Ky.) will have two one-month LBJ interns -- one who started May 1 and one who starts June 1 -- who will now have to be paid out of the office's personnel budget.
Because each office has a different combination of available funds for personnel, office space and starting dates for intern hiring, the LBJ cut will affect some members more than others. "I'd love to say there's a uniform answer, but there are probably 435 different answers," Boesel said.
Congress is trying to match a 4 percent staff cut in the executive branch over the next two fiscal years. Proposals for the slashing fell to Randall B. Medlock, acting director of non-legislative and financial services for the House.
Medlock offered a number of options to the Committee on House Administration and the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, which selected, among other things, the LBJ interns, contracting out the congressional restaurant system and placing a hiring freeze on administrative offices.
The cuts will represent 452 full-time-equivalents over the next two fiscal years, 49 -- or $701,000 -- of which come from the LBJ curtailment. As for next year's interns, the outlook is ominous. "I've made some recommendations for next year and one of them was to freeze the intern program, but that's kind of premature," Medlock said.
But every cloud has a silver lining, as one anonymous Hill aide was happy to point out. With fewer interns lurking around the Hill, the aide said, "think about how much more food there will be at summer receptions."