THE NEXT TIME your boss asks you to turn in your time sheet, or says you forgot to punch in, tell him, "Hey, I don't have to. Congress doesn't."
How do you think your boss would react? Face red? Fist clenched? Maybe a couple of words of profanity coming from pursed lips?
Of course, the boss would have every right to react that way, if you, the employee, refused to account for your time. Yet every day, members of Congress do . . . what? We simply don't know, because unlike the rest of the working world, they refuse to disclose how they spend their time to the ones who pay their salaries - namely you. Your tax dollars are what lines their pockets with healthy six-figure salaries. But do you really know what your money is paying for?
Two freshman members of the new Congress are seeking to change the way their offices do business, bringing them in line with the rest of the working world. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are putting their daily schedules on their website so all of their bosses can see what they do all day. Looking at Tester's site, I can tell you that on Feb. 6, just 24 hours before I penned this piece, Tester met with the secretary of the Air Force, the Dried Pea and Lentil Council, and Tom and Peggy Oates of Billings. Nothing earth-shattering there. But, if I were from Montana, it would be reassuring to know what Tester is doing, since I pay his salary.
With the new congressional leadership has come a promise to work five days a week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have rankled many lawmakers who were used to long weekends at home.
But while it will ultimately be hugely beneficial to have our lawmakers in Washington more often to work on legislation, there is a danger. That's a whole lot more time for lobbyists and special interests to get meetings. Thus it's even more important for us to know what schedules our lawmakers keep, so we know exactly who'is bending their ear.
Placing daily schedules on the Internet is the brainchild of the Sunlight Foundation, a new non-profit in Washington created to increase transparency in Congress. Through their Punchclock Campaign, they persuaded over 90 challengers for Congress to promise to post their schedules if elected. Not a single incumbent would sign the agreement.
But maybe Sunlight is being too nice. Maybe it's about time that those of us who employ Congress demand they tell us what they do every day during official hours.
We don't need to know when they get a haircut, or when they visit their moms. (Our bosses don't have the right to know that about us.) But until Philadelphia-area members start to post their schedules, let's call them every day and ask their staffs to tell us over the phone, or e-mail the schedule to us.
Just like in the real world, sometimes things don't get done until the boss becomes a real pain in the butt.
Call your Washington representatives and ask them to see what they do all day. *