Amid an uproar over Capitol staff mistreatment, meet the House’s ‘worst boss’

By | May 6, 2022

Rep. Victoria Spartz topped a nonpartisan group’s “Worst Bosses” list last year, winning the dubious title of most staff turnover in the House. Her retention record is only getting worse.

Four aides are departing the Indiana Republican’s office this month after another exited weeks ago, leaving a skeleton crew of staffers in the first-term lawmaker’s D.C. office. Spartz’s exodus is on the radar of GOP leadership, which has tried to address her performance as an employer at least twice since the end of last year, according to a senior Republican close to the matter.

The frequent departures stem from an allegedly unhealthy work environment, according to interviews with eight people, including more than a half-dozen former staffers as well as Republicans familiar with her office dynamics who were granted anonymity to speak candidly. They described Spartz as an unpredictable boss whose temper can rocket from tepid to boiling.

Those former staffers and other Republicans told POLITICO she frequently yells and curses at aides, belittling her staff’s intelligence and berating them in front of others — members, constituents and even with reporters in close proximity. On more than one occasion, three former staffers said, Spartz likened her aides’ writing skills to those of elementary-school students and proclaimed that her children were more talented than her staff.

“That’s the common theme: Staffers do their job, and then Victoria comes in saying that they have no idea what they’re doing, that they are morons, calling them ‘idiots,’” said one former staffer. “Senior staff was amazing. That staff was really trauma bonded … we’ve all been through some shit.”

In a statement for this story through a spokesperson, Spartz acknowledged that her working style is “not for everyone.”

“I’m grateful to my current and former staff. I work extremely hard at a pace that is not for everyone. I remain focused on working hard for the people of Indiana,” she said.

Complaints against Spartz’s workplace culture are bubbling to the surface under a dome already shaken by the torrent of anonymous toxic-boss allegations shared by the popular Instagram account “Dear White Staffers.” Unproven charges about Spartz have shown up on the account, among with stories about numerous other lawmakers, which has helped fuel the push for a congressional staff union to ensure better workplace protections.

Inside Spartz’s office, three of the former staffers accused the Republican of raising tensions by usually avoiding firings and instead bullying aides until they leave on their own. While some employees have left Spartz’s payroll for other job opportunities, former staffers said it’s clear to current and past employees — as well as others in the Indiana delegation — that aides who have left after a couple of months did so because the work environment became untenable.

“Manic is a correct description,” said another former staffer of Spartz’s behavior in the workplace. “The reason for [former aides] departing after a short time was because of her.”

The nonpartisan website Legistorm listed Spartz as the House member with the most employee turnover in 2021, with staffers leaving at more than 3.5 times the average of congressional offices. She fell only behind a member who retired in the middle of his term: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who left the House to lead Donald Trump’s new social media platform.

Compounding the problem for Spartz aides is this week’s pending departure of her chief of staff, Renee Hudson, whom one former staffer praised as the “gold standard” for a boss — one who shielded them from the worst fallout and held the office together. Hudson’s exit on Friday comes after another senior staffer left in November, which means there will be no barriers between Spartz and more junior aides for the time being.

More than one former Spartz aide described group discussions about pacts to leave the office if Hudson left. And with her gone, the situation is expected to get worse for those left behind.

Spartz, a 43-year-old former state senator, is experiencing a period of heightened visibility as the first Ukrainian immigrant elected to the House. She’s shared emotional stories about the distress she’s experienced keeping in touch with her family during Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine.

Meanwhile, behind closed doors, staffers say her response to previous staff departures followed a familiar pattern, according to multiple former staffers and Republicans: She would respond that she was effectively doing the jobs of her exiting aides anyway.

Some of the former staffers pointed to Spartz’s inability to make up her mind about standard decisions — including about hiring new aides — as another significant problem. That paralysis, as well as Spartz’s assertions that her staff would frequently get her demands wrong, led to a mutually agreed-upon practice between her and employees to make audio recordings of her requests or guidance for tasks she wanted completed.

But despite the existence of that audio, former staffers said, Spartz at times would later deny that she asked her aides to take a certain action or accuse aides of doing something she didn’t want. The former staffers interviewed said they decided not to play Spartz the tapes of her own voice in order to avoid further conflict with their then-boss, despite her requesting that the conversations be recorded.

This week, Spartz won an uncontested primary ahead of likely reelection in what is a safe red-district.