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Roll Call Survey: The Culture of Drinking on Capitol Hill

We asked staffers about alcohol consumption in congressional offices

Staffers go to the bars in the Capitol Hill area, but how much do they drink in the office? (Bill Clark/ CQ Roll Call file photo)
Staffers go to the bars in the Capitol Hill area, but how much do they drink in the office? (Bill Clark/ CQ Roll Call file photo)

There is daily drinking in a few congressional offices, a Roll Call survey found.

We polled congressional staffers about drinking in light of Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett’s retirement announcement, in which he said he is an alcoholic and wants to focus on recovery.

While more than half of the 58 respondents said they never drink in the office, a quarter said drinking happens weekly. Five respondents said  staffers drink in their offices five to 10 times a month, and three people said it occurs on a daily basis.

Two respondents said everyone — including both the member of Congress and interns — drink in the office together.

Of the 27 people who said their offices do allow alcohol, just under a quarter said everyone except for interns and the member they work for consumes it. Nine respondents said it’s everyone besides interns, which would include the member. And three said everyone drinks, including interns, but not the member.

Roll Call asked if offices had a drinking policy and if so, what it was.

A dozen of those responding said their offices had no official policy, but others said they have an informal one.

“No, but common sense is always in play on any decision you make as an employee in the office,” one respondent said.

Others said drinking at work was not acceptable.

“Responsible consumption of alcohol at events or after work is finished [is] appropriate, drinking during the normal work day or alcoholism is not,” one wrote.

Another said, “Don’t be an alcoholic or let if affect your work, and only after official closing time.”

ICYMI: Guinness, Men in Black, St. Patrick’s Day and More Guinness — Congressional Hits and Misses

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A handful said their policy is that drinking cannot occur during congressional session or working hours. But there are special occasions when alcohol is allowed.

“Drinking in the office is not allowed; the only exceptions are for special social events such as networking brunches during out of session periods. Only people of legal age are allowed and the rule is strictly enforced,” one respondent said.

Another explained that when interns are in the office, there can’t be alcohol and staffers can “only drink with interns if he/she is over 21 and it’s not in the office.”

Additionally, the respondent said, “Only the legislative staff will have a beer or two on a Friday afternoon or after hours. No member, no senior staff, no front office staff, no interns. We do pop champagne whenever we have a bill pass the floor or get signed into law. We’ll also have a beer or two if in the office for late votes or something after hours like a telephone town hall.”

While some celebrate a bill, others celebrate a week.

“We often have ‘Fiesta Fridays’ at which we each have a beer or a glass of wine together to celebrate the end of the week,” a respondent said.

Another staffer said drinking can be a firing offense.

“It must be done in an appropriate manner after normal working hours. This has been abused in the past and staff have been terminated for it,” the response read.

Roll Call also asked what respondents would like their office drinking policy to be, whether they already have one or not.

A handful of staffers were in favor of a “no drinking” policy. Others said it should be allowed in moderation.

Most respondents said no one under 21 should be given alcohol, and a majority said no one should drink during working hours.

“It should be flexible, encourage social interaction and the duration of the drinking in the office should be limited. There is absolutely no need for a formal policy,” one respondent said.

One respondent has a clear policy for himself: “I’m a legislative staffer and feel like I should be able to have a drink at my desk anytime after 3-4 pm.”

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