Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.
STOP EVERYTHING. “100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” said Sen. McConnell at a press conference. He added: Democrats want to turn America into a “socialist country” and Senate Republicans are in “total unity… in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do to this country.” Does this makes it official?
The Justice Department was castigated for lying to a federal court in an effort to prevent public access to an Office of Legal Counsel Memorandum on whether Trump could be prosecuted. It’s not the first time DOJ has lied to a court about FOIA requests. This also highlights the importance of public access to OLC’s work, which we discuss below. We also note that Attorney General Barr okayed the collection of email contacts by journalists as part of a so-called “leak” investigation, another stab at the heart of government accountability.
Quill, an excellent new tool that allows Member offices to get electronic signatures on their Dear Colleagues, made its House debut; it is already available in the Senate. (More below.)
Kudos to the House Labor-HHS Approps subcommittee, which so far is the only subcommittee to hold public witness hearings. We are appreciative of Chair DeLauro for making it happen. We are tracking appropriations testimony deadlines here.
Earmarks. We also favorably note that the House Approps committee has both published earmark requests on its webpage ~and~ published them as a spreadsheet (downloadable here). We published recommendations on what data elements should be included in the spreadsheet, a spreadsheet being the bare minimum requirement for modern data disclosure. We welcome the appearance of data fields like Membername, subcommittee, project title, amount requested, recipient address, and explanation. However, there are serious deficiencies, such a lack of unique identifiers, missing data fields, and too many data elements in the same field. In addition, it is unclear whether the spreadsheet will be updated as earmarks move through the legislative process or how users would be informed that updates have occurred. I’m hoping this is an alpha release and it will be improved. There is a significant community of civic technologists who would be glad to help.
White House visitor logs will now (again) be made publicly available, but we are cranky about it. Transparency should be required by law and not granted at the sufferance of the sovereign. This illustrates one of the failings of the Obama administration, which repeatedly fought against turning good government norms into law.
This upcoming week will be busy: House Admin will hold hearings on Monday and Wednesday into the Capitol Police and the Architect. On Tuesday, Senate Rules will hold a business meeting on S. 1, which is the Democrats’ democracy reform package. On Wednesday, House Oversight will look into unanswered questions on the Capitol Insurrection (what an anodyne name for what happened). And on Thursday House Modernization will look into recruiting, empowering, and retaining a diverse congressional staff.
Last week on the Hill was busy, too. The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on transparency and accountability legislation; Demand Progress hosted its Advisory Committee on Transparency panel discussion on what’s on Congress’s transparency agenda. The House Modernization Committee looked at congressional staff capacity. And the Lincoln Network hosted an excellent event on GAO at 100. (More below.)Continue reading “Forecast for May 10, 2021.”