Depending on the job in question, productivity can be difficult to measure. For factory workers or salespeople or writers, it can easily be measured by the number of cogs produced, the number of sales made or the number of words written, respectively.
However, at times it seems rather subjective. How does one measure the productivity of a manager, for example? Or an academic? Or a politician? In all of these cases and more, metrics are derived in an attempt to get some sense of how well someone is doing their job and how successful their efforts are when the rubber meets the road.
In this article, we focus on measuring the productivity of U.S. Senators and Representatives. This is by no means the first attempt to do so. However, metrics measuring the question of Congressional productivity often focus on the number of bills passed in Congress--in other words, how many bills make it through both Houses of Congress and to the President's desk. While this does, in fact, measure overall Congressional productivity, it does nothing to help understand who in Congress is productive and who is not. That is the goal here.
Every year, hundreds of bills are introduced in Congress, all addressing some constituent or political concern. (For our purposes, the content or ideological foundation of these bills is irrelevant as we are merely attempting to gauge the efforts of individual Senators and Representatives, nor are more bills necessarily better than fewer.) The majority of bills do not leave their respective Congressional house, even fewer clear both houses and fewer still (although most) are ultimately signed into law by the president. Taking that into account, we present the included graphic to measure individual Congressional productivity by showing how many bills each member of Congress sponsored and how many co-sponsors they and their bills attracted.
Visualizing Congressional Productivity
The included figure measures the following metrics in the following way:
- Bars on the right side show the total number of bills any given member of Congress has sponsored during the 2013-2014 Congressional session.
- Bars on the left side show the total number of co-sponsors any given member of Congress has attracted during the 2013-2014 Congressional session.
- The red line on the right side provides a baseline for the average number of bills a member of Congress would sponsor if they all sponsored an equal number of bills.
- The red line on the left side provides a baseline for the average number of co-sponsors a member of Congress will attract if all members of Congress attracted the same number of co-sponsors.
Hovering the mouse icon over either bar for any individual member of Congress' name will bring up their individual sponsorship and co-sponsorship statistics. This provides additional statistical breakdowns, such as the average number of co-sponsors attracted per bill sponsored and the hard numbers regarding their number of bills sponsored and their number of co-sponsors attracted.
Hovering the mouse icon over either red average line (much easier further down on the graph where members of Congress' sponsorship and co-sponsorship bars do not reach the red average lines) provides the averages for these metrics. They are:
- Average number of bills sponsored: 17.328971963
- Average number of co-sponsors attracted: 238.594392523
This graphic ranks members of Congress by the metric measured on the right side–number of bills sponsored. Note that some members of Congress have a below-average number of bills sponsored, but an higher than average number of co-sponsors attracted, such as Representative Pete Olson (R-TX), who has only sponsored 12 bills during the 2013-2014 session, though he has attracted 757 co-sponsors, making his sponsor to co-sponsor per bill ratio 1:63.08. As this graphic uses both metrics to gauge overall individual productivity, such discrepancies should be taken into account.
Why is the number of co-sponsors important?
Once in Congress, it's quite easy to introduce and sponsor a bill. Generally, an aid or team of aides writes the bill and a standard introduction procedure is followed on the Senate or House floor. However, the number of co-sponsors attracted is a good gauge of the strength of the bill. If a member of Congress sponsored a bill to require that government agencies must adhere to the same accounting standards as private businesses, it is unlikely that many–if any at all–fellow members of Congress would get on board. The more co-sponsors attracted, the more reasonable, relevant and important the bill is considered by fellow members of Congress.
Furthermore, co-sponsorships can indicate the strength, power and persuasiveness of the individual member of Congress. Co-sponsorships are often "traded" in Congress like favors. A member of Congress lends his or her weight and influence to a bill in hopes that its sponsor will also lend their weight and influence to their bill when the time comes.
And the winners are: The most productive members of Congress
- Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) has sponsored 59 bills and attracted 771 co-sponsors. This makes his sponsor to co-sponsor per bill ratio a solid 1:13.07.
- Representative Matthew Cartwright (D-PA) has introduced 46 bills and attracted 1.364 co-sponsors. His sponsor to co-sponsor per bill ratio is 1:29.65
- Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has sponsored 43 bills and attracted 1,246 co-sponsors, making her sponsor to co-sponsor per bill ratio 1:28.98.
And the losers are: The most unproductive members of Congress
- Representative John Mica (R-FL) has introduced only 2 bills and attracted 15 co-sponsors, making his sponsor to co-sponsor per bill ratio 1:7.5.
- Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has sponsored 2 bills and attracted 17 co-sponsors, making her sponsor to co-sponsor per bill ratio 1:8.5.
- Representative Peter Visclosky (D-IN) has sponsored 2 bills and attracted 1 co-sponsor, making his sponsor to co-sponsor per bill ration 1:0.5.