Behind the scenes, a handful of women play key roles in US Capitol

It's women in the U.S. Capitol who are filling the top roles essential to keep the institution humming.
Posted at 4:48 PM, Mar 28, 2023

In the public's eyes, men now dominate the top positions in the U.S. Capitol. But behind the scenes, it's a handful of women that hold some of the most important jobs in the building. 

That includes Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, House Clerk Cheryl Johnson, Secretary of the Senate Sonceria Ann Berry, and Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson. 

"Every morning, I wake up excited to come to work," said Gibson. 

Officially, the Senate Sergeant at Arms is the doorkeeper and chief law enforcement officer, responsible for the security of senators, their staff and the public. But with her own staff of nearly 900, Gibson's job duties go well beyond what you may expect. 

"Everything from, you know, custodians and parking lots to the post office, the print plant, to the relations with the media, the Senate recording studio. We run the Senate haircare. We actually have a barber shop, the custodians, capital facilities. We have people who handcraft the chairs that Senators sit in on the Senate floor," said Gibson. 

Gibson can often be spotted on the Senate floor when the daily session gets underway. But as chief protocol officer, she is also responsible for escorting the president and other dignitaries around the Capitol. 

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After 33 years in the U.S. Army, Gibson retired from active duty in March 2020 and planned to take time to travel and relax with family. The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. Then after the January 6 insurrection, life threw her another curveball. 

"I did not expect the Senate Majority Leader's office to reach out to me about the opportunity of serving as the Senate Sergeant at Arms following that attack. But when they did, I certainly didn't feel that it was something I could say no to," said Gibson. 

Gibson's past life and career earned her a variety of titles including U.S. Army Lieutenant General, intelligence director for U.S. Central Command, and breast cancer survivor. She brings the leadership skills she gained in the military to work every day. 

"Crisis operations, 24-hour ops centers, contingency planning, responding to emergencies — these are all skills that translate to a broad variety of jobs, and this is one where I think it's been a good fit," said Gibson. 

She's only the second woman to ever hold the position of Senate Sergeant at Arms, and her deputy and chief of staff are also women — a Capitol first. 

"I do sometimes note when I sit down at a conference table in a meeting, and I look around and think how unusual it is compared to some of the environments I've worked in previously," said Gibson. 

Gibson's office is also responsible for overseeing technology and cyber security concerns, that includes making accommodations in the Senate chamber to provide closed captioning for Sen. John Fetterman at his desk and the presiding officer's chair. 

When asked how long she'll stay in this role, Gibson said, "I serve at the pleasure of the Senate, and I'm certainly not going to make any political prognostications."