Forecast for March 18, 2019. The seven-per-cent solution.

SEVEN PERCENT OF THE HOUSE, or 32 Members, spoke at a Member’s Day hearing of the Fix Congress Committee, held on Tuesday, with 35 members submitting written testimony. (VideoWitness statements). The 3 hour hearing, which followed the committee’s organizational meeting that adopting committee rules, is too complex to recap, but we summarized the subject matter in this spreadsheet. FWIW, I was generally impressed by the testimony.

Of the 22 Democrats and 10 Republicans who testified, the most popular issues were staff pay and benefits (8 members), modernizing technology (6 members), and investing in the institution (6 members). Of the three, modernizing technology had bipartisan speakers. In addition, other popular items, such as addressing committee jurisdictions (e.g, fixing the budget process), cyber security, and improving the House calendar, had bipartisan speakers. Roll Call and Issue One have a summary of the proceedings. Follow the committee’s new twitter account here.

Paid interns was one of the topics at the hearing, which is fortuitous because later that very day the House Administration Committee adopted a resolution containing interim guidance, giving the go-ahead for House personal offices to draw upon a $20 special fund to hire paid interns in DC. The mid-March adoption was late enough in the hiring cycle that it was adversely affecting intern hires for the summer. Part of the conversation at the meeting concerned increasing funds available to hire interns and expanding the kinds of offices that would be able to tap into the funds. More info, including the payroll authorization form, is here.

What about committee staff? A new report from the R Street Institute analyzed committee staffing trends on the Hill with fascinating results. It’s a mistake to lump committees together. For example, average staff tenure on House Appropriations is 8.1 years, compared to 3.6 years for House Energy. The average staffer salary varies from $135k for House Financial Services to $82k for the House Oversight Committee. Service on some committees can be highly gendered, too.

The House Administration Committee heard allotment requests during its meeting — these are requests from committees to provide funds for their operations. We wrote about how House committees get their money, and their historic funding levels, back in January. Notable this go-around was that House Admin waived requiring that the Chairs/RMs testify, so long as they made a joint request. Apparently everyone asked for more money, which makes sense as the House is spending $110m less (in inflation adjusted dollars) on committees than it did in the 111th Congress, which is a 25% cut. The committee funding resolution will be considered on March 26th and voted on by the House on March 28.

The lone point of contention was Rep. Jim Jordan, who opposed any request by House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cumming to increase the Committee’s allotment. Cummings requested a 4% increase this year and 10% for the following year. The Oversight Committee would need a 22.3% increase to put it at its funding level from a decade ago, and it has 25 unfilled personnel slots, 15 Democratic and 10 Republican. Rep. Jordan appeared to object on the grounds that Congress should cut its funds to save taxpayer dollars, although it became clear that some of the concern was rooted in opposition to hearings like that where Michael Cohen testified. The discussion was contentious.

Also on Tuesday was a double-header before the House Leg Branch Approps Subcommittee, where both the House of Representatives and Capitol Police budget requests were considered. The hearings didn’t surface any information that was not contained in the written testimony, although the Capitol Police were the subject of a Roll Call story that highlighted how arrests of protests and traffic violations “dominate” their recent arrests, at least to the extent they disclose who they arrest. Roll Call tells the story of how the 2,200 member $450m budgeted USCP had its jurisdiction expanded beyond Capitol grounds in the 1990s, and cited Demand Progress’s report for the arrest data. One notable fact: the USCP has an IG that doesn’t make any reports publicly available, and USCP said that’s because they aren’t required to by federal law. Hmmm.

The USCP can’t stay out of the news as they arrested an artist for projecting the phrase “Discrimination is Wrong” onto the Rayburn House Office Building last week. The artist, who believed the projection was lawful and has done this all around town, had his equipment confiscated and won’t get it back for at least a month, prompting a go-fund-me to pay for legal fees and replace the equipment. USCP was recently in the news for leaving a gun in a bathroom and apparently roughing up some journalists. Incidentally — no pun intended — Capitol Police reported 10 arrests during the week ending March 13th. Continue reading “Forecast for March 18, 2019. The seven-per-cent solution.”

Forecast for March 11, 2019. The Not at SXSW Edition.

IT’S SUNSHINE WEEK, devoted to all things transparency, and there are a ton of Congress tie-ins.

On the House floorset for a vote this week, are: the Access to Congressionally Mandated Report Act (which requires all agency reports sent to Congress to be online on a central website); the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2019 (to improve transparency of the 1,000 federal advisory committees); the Federal Register Modernization Act (which would require the Federal Register to be published electronically, and changes how agencies file); the Electronic Message Preservation Act (which requires the Archivist to promulgate regulations on managing electronic records); and a resolution (H. Con. Res. 24) that Mueller’s report should be publicly available; and more.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee will examine transparency under the Trump administration on Wednesday, with a focus on FOIA. Apparently, the Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to take a pass this Sunshine Week on its annual oversight hearing, which was a consistent feature when Sens. Grassley and Leahy previously ran the committee.

Federal agencies and civil society are hosting a number of events, including a half-day extravaganza on Monday hosted by the National Archives featuring the Archivist, congressional staff, OGIS, and several federal judges. Go herefor the full calendar of events. Continue reading “Forecast for March 11, 2019. The Not at SXSW Edition.”

A Look at the US Capitol Police

The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) has the mission of ensuring public access to our elected officials while protecting members of Congress and the Capitol campus. The USCP is well resourced, with a $450 million budget — a little larger than the budget for the police department serving Austin, Texas, which has a population of 950,000 people — and amounts to 10% of overall legislative branch spending. The department has over 2,200 employees, which is slightly more personnel than the Atlanta, Georgia, police department. USCP is one of the very few legislative branch agencies to have grown larger over the decades, with an approximate 3% budget increase annually.

What does the well-resourced Capitol Police department do with this significant capacity?

At the tail end of 2018 — prompted by multiple requests — the Capitol Police began publishing weekly arrest summaries online in PDF format. (We retyped that data into this arrest spreadsheet.) We also requested arrest summaries that were made available to some journalists prior to 2019 as well as basic arrest demographic information in a data format, but those requests were not fulfilled.

We analyzed the information that is available — 86 incidents involving 160 individuals between December 19, 2018, and February 28, 2019.

We found the following trends:

  • Approximately half of the arrests, 82 in total, concerned blocking a passageway, which suggests they related to the arrest of protesters.
  • Approximately one-third of the arrests, 53 in total, concerned traffic violations.
  • Only half of the arrests, 85 in total, were reported inside the House or Senate office buildings, of which the vast majority apparently were in connection with a protest. It is our understanding that arrests related to protests are often negotiated in advance with the USCP.
  • The USCP arrests statistics may not tell the whole story, as we have reason to suspect that much information relating to USCP incidents (and possibly arrests) may not have been included.

A number of reported arrests took place blocks away from the capitol campus. We’ve published a map of all the arrests, the red pins mark House and Senate office buildings.

Continue reading “A Look at the US Capitol Police”

Feds Lag in Publishing Funding Requests

Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are plain-language explanations of how an agency proposes to spend money it requests that Congress appropriate, but how easy is it for congressional staff and citizens to find these documents? Demand Progress surveyed 456 federal agencies and entities for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and found:

  • 7.5 percent of the 173 agencies with congressional liaisons, i.e., 13 agencies, published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. (Agencies with congressional liaison offices routinely interact with Congress). If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure becomes 3.3 percent, or 5 agencies, out of 152 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. The failure of one agency to publish their report impacts a number of sub-agencies. Among the agencies/entities inconsistent in their reporting is the Executive Office of the President, which houses the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the Office of the Vice President.
  • 6.1 percent of the 456 agencies we surveyed published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure changes to 3.1 percent, or 10 agencies, out of 318 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. Among the agencies/entities that inconsistently published their CBJs online are (yet again) the Executive Office of the President and the Access Board.
  • 21 percent of the 456 agencies we surveyed did not publish a CBJ. This is on top of the 6.1 percent that published only one CBJ for 2018 and 2019. We do not know whether these agencies were required to publish a CBJ, or whether their justification might be aggregated under another agency that did not publish its report. Unfortunately, there is no publicly-available comprehensive list of agencies that must publish these justifications.
  • All 24 CFO Act agencies — i.e., those agencies with a Chief Financial Officer created under the CFO Act — published their CBJs online.

Of the 456 agencies we reviewed, 141 of the agency CBJs traditionally would be included in CBJ’s generated by 73 other agencies. Continue reading “Feds Lag in Publishing Funding Requests”

Forecast for March 4, 2019. This House Is Falling Apart.

IT WILL COST BILLIONS to keep the Congress from literally (physically) falling apart, the acting Architect of the Capitol explained at an appropriations hearing last week. Read this round-up (with a nifty chart!) of the four legislative branch appropriations hearings on GAO, GPO, AOC, and CBO. One big take-away: if the House is going to modernize — or even keep things barely scraping along — appropriators must significantly increase the size of the appropriations pie going to Leg Branch. The original AOC is asking for a $100m bump this year. (There’s more in the blog, such as on IC oversight.)

The next budget fight is all cued up, as the Treasury is already taking extraordinary measures to pay the bills, with the tick-tick-tick-boom set to explode in September, just in time for the new fiscal year. Does anyone wanna talk about spending caps?

The House Budget Committee is starting to put together the FY 2020 budget resolution, although news coverage right now is about intramural skirmishes. As you know, the resolution will make a pot of money available to appropriators, and then they decide how to divy it up among the subcommittees. Just for fun, I looked at discretionary approps spending over the last decade. The results are not encouraging.

The amount of money spent by appropriators is up 10 percent over the last decade (adjusted for inflation), with State & Foreign Ops (+23.7%), Defense (+16%), and Homeland Security (+15.8%) taking the biggest percentage of plus-ups and the lion’s share of funding. By lion’s share, I mean 60 percent of the funding, or $786B of the $1.329T. Who were the biggest losers? Financial Services & General Government (-10.3%), CJS (-7.8%), and — you guessed it — Leg Branch (-7%).

No earmarks for you. Approps chair Lowey released a letter on Friday that rules out the return of earmarks unless there is a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to bring them back. Earmarks never really went away, of course, but became nearmarks, lettermarks, fauxmarks, and the like. Lowey is signaling that Dems would bring back earmarks if Republicans promise not to attack them.

The Library of Congress will have its time in the spotlight this Thursday at 9:15. Who’s excited? I’ll be listening very closely about whether the Library feels it is meeting the needs of Congress, whether it will fix the implementation of the new committee schedule website (which doesn’t let you see at a glance all the hearings for the week, including the name of the hearing and the witnesses), how it will finish the delayed implementation of the new CRS reports website, and whether the Library will talk with civil society about improving access to information. Looks like only the Librarian is testifying; past years have seen the CRS Director and others.

By the way, if a member wants to testify on Leg Branch, the instructions are now up, with a deadline of March 28. Similarly, written testimony for FSGG is due today. We note with favor that at least 3 House approps subcommittees so far will or have held public witness days (Energy & Water, State & Foreign Ops, and Interior). And 2 members of the Supreme Court will testify on Wednesdayconcerning the Court’s budget.

We built an approps twitter bot. It’s in beta, and you can check it out here and tell us what you think.
Continue reading “Forecast for March 4, 2019. This House Is Falling Apart.”

The Congress’s Edifice Problem

According to the Architect of the Capitol, it will take several billion dollars to keep the Congress from literally falling apart. This, and much more, was the subject of four legislative branch appropriations hearings this past week.

It’s not just the physical infrastructure of Congress that’s eroding, the power of the institution has taken a hit over the years with budget cuts. The result has been executive branch overreach as well as cyber security and IT practices falling miles behind best practices.

The legislative branch appropriations subcommittee in charge of doling out the funds that keep the branch functioning has the smallest pot of money to work with in the federal government: last year its funding was only approximately $4.3 billion, with overall federal spending about 1000x greater at $4.3 trillion.

To put this in context, $1.244 trillion was allocated to the 12 appropriations committees for FY 2019. The amount for the legislative branch is so small you can’t see it on the chart — it’s the bright green sliver. Here’s the amounts from least to greatest: Legislative Branch ($4.8b), Agriculture ($23b), Financial Services ($23b), Interior & Environment ($35.6b), Energy & Water ($44.6b), State & Foreign Ops ($46.2b), Homeland Security ($49.4b), Commerce & Science & Justice ($64.1b), Transportation & HUD ($71.1b), Military Construction & VA ($97.1b), Labor & HHS & Education ($178.1b), Defense ($606.5b). (There’s an additional $77b for “Overseas Contingent Operations,” of which $67.9b went to Defense.)

Screenshot 2019-03-01 at 5.10.22 PM

This week the House Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittee heard from four legislative branch agencies—the Architect of the Capitol (the OG ‘AOC’), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Government Publishing Office (GPO)—where lawmakers and agency-heads alike emphasized the importance of congressional strength and independence. GAO Comptroller Gene Dodaro explained:

Congress has put itself at [an] increasingly disadvantage[d] position in providing oversight over the executive branch…[it] has reduced its own staff, it’s reduced staff at legislative support agencies, and testifying before this committee over the years I’ve always said that I think that that’s a mistake…Even at its height, [the] legislative branch is so out-personed, if you will, compared to the executive branch, it’s hard to conduct oversight…[as] contemplated by the constitution.

Want to know what agency heads asked for but don’t want to watch four hours of hearings yourself? We’ve got the details below.

Continue reading “The Congress’s Edifice Problem”

Forecast for February 25, 2019. Your Salad Days.

WORKING IN CONGRESS again is in the news, starting with Sen. Klobuchar receiving a drubbing for her ongoing mistreatment of staff. The New York Times tells a gross story of Sen. Klobuchar and a comb, but less salaciously describes her throwing objects and requesting staff return money earned during parental leave if they leave the office.

The Huffington Post, which has been at the forefront of reporting on Klobuchar, pushed back against Team Klobuchar’s painting of these news reports as sexist, quoting one staffer as saying “She is a terrible manager and abusive to her staff.” It’s obvious that Sen. Klobuchar’s office has a huge problem. She should come clean, and it’s not just admitting that she’s a “tough boss,” because there’s obviously more to it than that. (FWIW, Sen. Klobuchar is not the only senator who is more than a “tough boss.”)

As the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, Sen. Klobuchar is in a perfect position to push for Senate-wide protections for staff that makes sure that issues like paid parental leave is out of the hands of any individual senator. We note that Sen. Klobuchar played a major role in advocating for the passage of the Congressional Accountability Act.

$52,000 annually is the minimum starting wage in Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s office, as compared to nearly all congressional offices that pay their entry-level staff substantially less. It comes at a cost, however, as senior staff are comparatively underpaid, topping out at $80k. Roll Call smartly points out that the pot of money from which staff pay comes, the Member Representational Account, is almost $86 million below its FY 2010 levels.

Interns are paid in AOC’s office, but Speaker Pelosi put up, and quickly removed, an ad for unpaid interns. The House had approved $8.8 million for House interns, or $20k per office, which is still woefully inadequate. The group Pay Our Interns noted that the House Admin Committee has yet to issue guidelines that would allow that money to be disbursed. While we’re talking about interns, Roll Call described their formative experiencesanswering the phones.

Continue reading “Forecast for February 25, 2019. Your Salad Days.”