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Most college-educated workers in the D.C. area earn $81,000 or more, with an average salary of $93,850, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For college grads under 30, the median salary is $42,000.

Some 300 staffers who started in 2005 or 2006 are already registered federal lobbyists, a Times review of records indicated. They are preparing detailed policy papers, and in some cases drafting proposed legislation, for their former colleagues, and they have the time and resources to do a more thorough job than those still there — though one that has a slant in favor of their new, more generous employer.

“Staff are incredibly vulnerable to this. They’re trying to do a very complicated job with limited resources,” Mr. Schuman said.

As the federal government has grown dramatically over the decades, the Congress in charge of overseeing it has stayed the same or shrunk. A recent 10 percent reduction to congressional offices’ budgets is the latest major reduction.

“When times are going bad, lawmakers say we have to cut Congress. But when things are going great, no one says it’s time to hire more staff. You get the Congress you pay for,” Mr. Schuman said.

Mr. Darling acknowledged that salaries made it nearly impossible for Congress to have many workers with significant experience. But he likened the limitation to “term limits” for staff. He decried the deferred compensation system that inspires some Hill staffers to make next to nothing for a few years so they can cash in big as a lobbyist afterward, but praised the idealists who toiled there.

“There’s a perception that government workers are underworked, and that’s far from the case in Congress. In fact, they tend to burn out and leave for higher-paid positions,” said Mr. Darling. Executive-branch bureaucrats could take a lesson from their grueling workload, he added.

“The way Congress runs is the way the federal government should run.”