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Members Pay Thousands for Advice, Team Building

The website of the Enrichment Center asks, “Are you a Tranquil Turtle who is becoming exceedingly frustrated with a Much Loved Monkey?”

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) was apparently curious — last fall, his office paid the Enrichment Center $20,000 for “training.”

The center is led by Executive Director Larry Little, author of a self-published book called “Make a Difference,” which uses various animal archetypes to describe human relationships. The center’s website says the organization “helps develop more effective leaders and improve general human resource and business practices.”

Aderholt spokeswoman Anne Marie Malecha told Roll Call in an email, “The Enrichment Center is a training organization that specializes in corporate training and team building. The funds expended to the Enrichment Center have been used for leadership training for staff in the Washington and district offices to help them better serve the constituents of the Fourth District.”

Aderholt is hardly the only Member of Congress who has spent taxpayer money on outside consultants and professional development for staff. The newest quarterly reports of House expenditures detail tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of training and professional programs Members paid for with their taxpayer-funded office accounts during the past few months.

For example, many Members pay for training through the Congressional Management Foundation — usually at about $4,000 per office — which specializes in training Congressional staff for their unique work responsibilities. But many offices chose home-grown professional development programs.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) spent $2,500 on a staff retreat at a Colorado firm called Think Like a Genius. Polis spokesman Christopher Fitzgerald said, “Most of it is team building and a discussion of priorities [and] what we are trying to accomplish.”

Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) paid $4,300 in February to a firm called Collaborative Focus, which appears to specialize in conflict management and mediation. His spokeswoman, Emily Halnon, said in an email, “Rick views the office as a professional organization. He holds a training and goal-setting staff retreat every two years to meet with the DC and District staff. He works with the staff on a plan to achieve those goals to help serve his constituents. The expenditure to Collaborative Focus was for training at the retreat to help ensure that staff in the Larsen office is equipped to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.”

Larsen has also previously had the Congressional Management Foundation conduct training.

Other staff training is a bit more specific. Reps. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) each paid a firm called Presentation Testing Inc. to train staff on “communications technologies.” According to the company’s website, the firm uses hand-held dial response devices to allow audience members to continually grade a presentation. “On a second-by-second basis, we can quantify what everyone in an audience is thinking about your presentation — from beginning to end,” the website claims. “And we can identify the ‘weak spots’ that bore or confuse an audience — and work with you to revise those portions.”

In general, communications is a big thing for Congressional training. Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) paid $900 for public-speaking training for his staff; Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) paid his campaign media consultant $2,650 out of his office account to provide media training to his staff; and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) paid $3,250 in January to a Maryland communications firm to work with staff on “best practices in terms of being clear when we are talking to constituents,” spokesman Dan Weber said. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) hired a motivational speaker named James Parker to speak to her staff for $3,000.

And sometimes, Members and their staff just need help keeping everything in order. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) paid $900 to The Organizer Inc. “to help our staff improve organizational skills given the extremely high volume of constituent requests that come across all of their desks,” spokesman Ed Gilman said.

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