On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously adopted the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for 2019 (committee bill text, committee report), advancing the measure to the full chamber. The legislation contains provisions concerning the Senate’s ability to do its job, mirroring in some instances provisions contained in the House bill, which was passed by that chamber last week. (As is common practice for Senate legislative branch appropriations, there was no public subcommittee markup and the full committee markup was recorded as audio only — listen to the last 8 minutes here).
Among the highlights of what was included in the bill text or committee report:
- A study on Senate personal and committee staff pay
- Improving Congress’s science and technology capacity
- Addressing Senate internships
- Campaign E-Filing requirement
- Improving childcare availability
- Office security; IG independence; CBO transparency; and financial system modernization
We also will briefly describe our proposals that were not included, including:
- Publishing Senators’ Official Personnel and Official Expense Account Report as data — this is discussed in the financial systems modernization section
- Library of Congress Public Information Advisory Committee
- Creating a Website for the legal treatise known as the Constitution Annotated
- Creating a Chief Data Officer for the Legislative Branch
And finally, at the end we will include snippets of relevant section of bill text and committee report language
A study on Senate personal and committee staff pay.
This study will compare staff remuneration levels to their executive branch and private sector equivalents, and look to see whether pay disparities exist inside the Senate with respect to respect to gender, race, and ethnicity. A similar study will be undertaken in the House, although the Senate iteration allows individual offices to decline to participate. (Disclosure: we submitted testimony in support of this study.)
Improving Congress’s science and technology capacity.
The Senate has directed the GAO give its science and technology assessment function more prominence inside that agency, requiring a report from GAO on how to accomplish this. In addition, it directs GAO to contract with NAPA to report within 12 months on options to increase Congress’s science and technology capacity, including the possibility of creating a new legislative branch entity. For many years the Congress had the Office of Technology Assessment, which played this role, and this is a move towards reestablishing a technology assessment function. (Disclosure: we assisted with testimony by the R Street Institute in support of these reforms.)
Addressing Senate Internships
A significant factor affecting the composition of Senate staff is the pipeline by which they are hired. Many Senate internships are unpaid, creating a hiring funnel that can disadvantage the less wealthy from an opportunity to work for Congress.
Accordingly, the Senate has established a fund that will provide approximately $50,000 to each personal office to pay interns, with any unused funds going back to the Treasury. Assuming compensation at DC’s minimum wage, this would support each office having 2 interns at any one time, or approximately 6 interns a year — 2 in the spring, 2 in the summer, 2 in the fall. In addition, the Senate directed the Sergeant at Arms to create a Senate Internship Opportunities Bulletin, i.e., an internship jobs newsletter, modeled after the Senate Employment Bulletin.
Senate Campaign Finance E-Filing
The Senate wastes almost a million taxpayer dollars a year requiring candidates for the Senate to file their campaign finance reports with the Senate instead of the FEC, which must then re-key all that data into their systems. The appropriations bill would require Senate candidates to file directly with the FEC, as members of the House already do. This provision has support from a bipartisan majority in the Senate, but has been prevented from proceeding in prior Congress’s by Senator McConnell. (For more, see this report by Issue One. Disclosure: we signed a letter in support of e-filing legislation.)
The Senate childcare facility is extremely limited and can handle only 68 infants and children while the Senate currently employs an estimated 6,400 individuals. The Senate has requested the Architect of the Capitol explore options to provide it more space and for the AOC and the Sergeant at Arms to convene a working group on transitioning the management of the facility in-house; it is currently run by a nonprofit.
- Security: The Sergeant at Arms will create a new office to evaluate security risks and assist Senate offices with security on and off campus.
- Office security: The Sergeant at Arms will use funds to strengthen office cybersecurity, including for third-party cybersecurity services; to conduct annual audits; and enhance training. Presumably, this means the use of tools like LastPass and 2-factor identification systems.
- Senator cybersecurity: Senators are at particular risk for hacking and cyber attacks on their personal accounts. The legislation requires a report from the Senators’ Personal Cybersecurity Working Group by September 19, 2018, on options to improve Senators’ personal cybersecurity, and directs consultation with outside experts. (Disclosure: we have provided cybsecurity trainings to staff.)
- IG Independence: Each legislative branch IG is directed to keep the Committee fully informed of its funding needs, and agencies are directed not to interfere or require approval of such communications. In addition, each agency that has an Inspector General is directed to have a separate section in the 2020 budget justification that provides significant detail for the IG’s budget request. (We have seen elsewhere where agencies require IGs to get approval prior to communicating with Congress as a way of stifling those communications.)
- Finance System Modernization: The Secretary of the Senate is appropriated $3 million towards its Financial Management Information System Modernization. We had submitted testimony in favor of the Senate publishing its Statement of Official and Personal Expense Accounts (SOPOEA) online as structured data — this is a record of how the Senate is spending its money — but no language was included. The Senate already publishes this information online as a PDF, but it would be much more useful as a spreadsheet file; this is how the House publishes its information. Our testimony on that point is here.
- CBO Staff & Transparency: As part of an increase in funds to hire 10 additional employees, CBO is directed to share with the committee on its planned transparency efforts within 90 days of enactment. This is focused in particular on making the methods and assumptions behind its cost estimates publicly available, including a review of the feasibility of placing interactive models online and releasing the source code for computer programs used in analysis. (Disclosure: we submitted two letters: one in support of more info about modeling, and another on improving how CBO publishes info online.)
- CRS: CRS will receive an additional $4 million to modernize its mission specific information technology systems and protect the confidentiality of congressional data.
Demand Progress and/or the Congressional Data Coalition suggested the following ideas for inclusion in the appropriations bill, but they were not adopted.
Library of Congress Public Information Advisory Committee
The Library of Congress is proud of its reputation and role as the largest library in the world. Part of its mission is to share knowledge through its online resources. Indeed, the Library plays an important role in providing information about Congress to the public, but the Library — at least in our experience — is not in regular contact with civil society, especially with those with expertise in facilitating public access to Congressional information, with particular regard to websites like Congress.gov. This is a missed opportunity. We recommend that such an advisory body be established with broad internal and external stakeholder representation that would hold regular public meetings where a productive interchange can take place. (Our testimony on this is here.)
Creating a Website for the legal treatise known as the Constitution Annotated
The Annotated Constitution of the United States of America is a regularly-updated treatise required of the Library of Congress, and prepared by the Congressional Research Service, that explain the U.S. Constitution as it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court. While the Annotated Constitution is prepared in a computer-friendly format (XML) and is available for congressional offices as a continuously-updated website, only in recent years has it been made available online pursuant to a November 2010 directive of the Joint Committee on Printing, but then only as a voluminous PDF that is too large to download, and app that is not viewable on small communications devices; and the public version is not as frequently updated as the internal version.
The website that contains the Constitution Annotated that is made available to congressional staff — which does not contain any confidential information — should also be available to the public. For more information on the Constitution Annotated, read this blogpost, and see our testimony.
Creating a Chief Data Officer for the Legislative Branch
The Legislative branch has made significant efforts to release legislative information to the public as data. This includes the online publishing of bill status, text, and information; committee schedules, documents, and videos; CBO reports; GAO Reports; CRS Reports; as well as holding regular meetings of the Bulk Data Task Force. These efforts are welcome and encouraged. We believe a thousand flowers should bloom, but it’s also important to have a guide to the garden.
Members of Congress, their support offices and agencies, as well as the general public rely on congressional data, but it’s not always clear what information exists, where it can be found, and what more can be done. Congress should make permanent the Legislative Branch Bulk Data Task Force, initially created to report on the feasibility of bulk access to legislative data and which now facilitate communications amongst congressional stakeholders as well as the general public concerning public access to legislative branch data. In addition, Congress should create the position of Chief Data Officer to track datasets released by the legislative branch; provide advice, guidance, and encouragement to offices and agencies regarding the publication of legislative branch information as data; provide assistance to the Legislative Branch Bulk Data Task Force; and provide assistance to the public with finding and obtaining legislative data.
The following are portions of the committee report that relate to the issues listed above.
Staff Pay Study
Senate Staff Compensation Review. — Ensuring that Senate staff compensation is competitive and fair is critical to attracting and retaining highly-qualified staff. The Secretary of the Senate is directed to conduct a review, or contract with an independent external entity to conduct a review, of the salaries and benefits of staff employed by Senators’ offices and Senate Committees to evaluate the extent to which Senate staff receive similar pay for similar work, both internally and externally to the Senate. The review must, to the extent possible, compare staff compensation to the Executive Branch and the private sector. The review must also compare staff compensation within the Senate with respect to gender, race, and ethnicity. The review must consider job responsibilities, experience, and outside qualifications, including education, for such comparisons. Providing such compensation data is strictly voluntary for any Senator’s office or Senate Committee, and any such office may direct that its data be excluded from any data provided for the review. The review should note how many offices, in the aggregate, chose not to participate. The Secretary, or contracting entity, must also take all reasonable and necessary steps to ensure that the data gathered is securely protected and kept confidential. The Committee directs that such a review be started, or contracted out, within 12 months of enactment and that a report summarizing such review be submitted, within 18 months of enactment, to the Committee on Appropriations and upon request to any Senator. Such report must provide summaries of such comparisons and exclude any information that could be used to identify any individual, any Senators’ office, any Committee, or any other entity of the Senate, similar to reports published in 2001 and 2006.
Improving Congress’s science and technology capacity
Technology Assessment. — There is general support in Congress to bolster capacity of and enhance access to quality, independent science and technological expertise. Since 2002, GAO has provided direct support to Congress in the area of technology assessment through objective, rigorous, and timely assessments of emerging science and technologies. The Center for Science, Technology, and Engineering [CSTE] within GAO has developed such a capacity, providing wide-ranging technical expertise across all of GAO’s areas of work. However, because the scope of technological complexities continues to grow significantly, the Committee seeks opportunities to expand technology assessment capacity within the Legislative Branch.
The Committee encourages GAO to reorganize its technology and science function by creating a new more prominent office within GAO. GAO is directed to provide the Committee a detailed plan and timeline describing how this new office can expand and enhance GAO’s capabilities in scientific and technological assessments. This plan should be developed in consultation with internal stakeholders of the Legislative Branch such as congressional staff and Members of Congress in addition to external stakeholders, including nonprofit organizations and subject matter experts knowledgeable in the field of emerging and current technologies. Further, such a plan should include a description of the revised organizational structure within GAO, provide potential cost estimates as necessary, and analyze the following issues and: the appropriate scope of work and depth of analysis; the optimum size and staff skillset needed to fulfill its mission; the opportunity and utility of shared efficiencies within GAO; and the opportunities to increase GAO’s engagement and support with Congress.
GAO is directed to submit this report to the Committee within 180 days of enactment. The Committee also directs GAO to contract with the National Academy of Public Administration to evaluate previous and current efforts related to technology assessment support to the Congress, including those of the former Office of Technology Assessment, the Congressional Research Service, and GAO. The evaluation should also identify and assess options for enhancing technology assessment support to the Congress, including new legislative authorities, resources, or functions for existing agencies or entities, establishing previous agencies or entities, and/or the establishment of a new entity or entities. A report summarizing such evaluation is directed to be submitted to the Committee not later than 12 months after enactment.
Senate Intern Compensation. — The Committee believes that Senate internships should be available to the broadest possible pool of candidates who have the ability and interest to serve. Unfortunately, unpaid internships exclude those who cannot independently afford to work without pay, hindering students’ future career opportunities and making it more difficult for Senators to attract and hire the most qualified interns, regardless of socioeconomic status. One important step to expanding Senate opportunities is to provide interns financial compensation via a salary or stipend, which would provide an avenue for more students to have the opportunity to serve their country and gain experience toward a career in public service. In addition to funding allocated in the table above for Senators’ office allowances and for agency contribution costs, the bill includes $5,000,000 for the sole purpose of providing financial compensation to interns. Any intern compensation funding that remains unspent by any office will be returned to the Treasury in accordance with section 101 of the bill. Such funding is directed to be allocated among Senators’ offices in relative proportion to funds allocated for each office’s administrative and clerical assistance allowance for fiscal year 2019 shown in the table above, which reflect natural variables including State populations, with a small additional amount for non-contiguous states. On average, each office will be allocated an estimated $50,000 for intern compensation.
Senate Internship Opportunities Bulletin. — The Committee believes that the Senate should do more to make Senate internships accessible to those who qualify for them. The Committee directs the Senate Placement Office to establish an Internship Opportunities Bulletin on its website as a central resource for Senators’ offices and Committees that wish to publicize internship opportunities in the Senate. The bulletin should be similar in format and operation to the current Senate Employment Bulletin. The bulletin should feature a clear statement that such opportunities are only those requested for public listing by Senators’ Offices and Committees and that other opportunities may be available. Such bulletin should be operational not later than 90 days after enactment or as soon as practicable following prompt notification to the Committee.
FILING BY SENATE CANDIDATES WITH COMMISSION
SEC. 103. Section 302(g) of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (52 U.S.C. 30102(g)) is amended to read as follows: ‘‘(g) FILING WITH THE COMMISSION. — All designa tions, statements, and reports required to be filed under this Act shall be filed with the Commission.’’.
Senate Employees’ Child Care Center [SECCC]. — The Committee directs the Senate Sergeant at Arms to convene a working group to review the current operations of the SECCC. Representatives from the Architect of the Capitol and the Sergeant at Arms shall form the working group. The Sergeant at Arms must receive input from related constituencies including SECCC Board Members and Executive Director. The working group shall conduct a study and provide its findings to the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Rules and Administration no later than 90 days after enactment of this act. The study shall: examine the current statutory impediments to and feasibility of incorporating the SECCC into either the office of the Sergeant at Arms or the office of the Secretary of the Senate; the current costs to operate the facility, including capital, operating, salaries, benefits and other expenses and how those might convey to one of the Senate entities named; investigate the creation and operation of a revolving fund by which tuition and other payments may be received; detail the best method of dissolving the 501(c)(3) that currently runs the SECCC; and recommend a personnel process to govern hires, transfers, promotions, and approvals for training. The working group should also provide an accounting of the SECCC’s requirements to maintain certification and licensing as a certified and/or accredited child care and child development facility in the District of Columbia. That accounting should also include any requirements for insurance or other liability protections for the staff or the facility. The study should disclose all costs associated with the operation of the center that are currently incurred by the SECCC, the Architect of the Capitol, the Senate Sergeant at Arms, and the Secretary of the Senate. When developing its findings, the Committee strongly encourages the working group to consider the structure and capacity of child care facilities that serve employees of other Legislative Branch agencies, the House of Representatives, and Executive Branch agencies.
Senate Child Care Facilities. — The Committee notes that the physical capacity of the Senate Employee Child Care Center [SECCC] is extremely limited relative to the number of Senate employees. The SECCC currently cares for an estimated 68 infants and children while the Senate currently employs an estimated 6,400 individuals. This limited capacity has resulted in long waitlists and, ultimately, most Senate employees with children are unable to place a child with the SECCC. Without a larger capacity, the SECCC will continue to serve only a small portion of the child care needs of the Senate community. The program operations of the SECCC are not under the purview of the AOC. However, the AOC is in a unique position to evaluate potential options for expanding the physical capacity of the SECCC — specifically, the AOC maintains the existing SECCC facilities and other Capitol facilities that may contribute to expanding SECCC capacity. The AOC would also be involved in acquiring or constructing any potential new Senate facilities. The Committee directs the AOC to identify and evaluate options for expanding the physical capacity of the SECCC. The AOC should include in its evaluation existing facilities within the purview of AOC, including those associated with the Library of Congress, and should prioritize timeliness for expanding SECCC capacity. The Committee directs the AOC to provide a report to the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Rules and Administration detailing such options within 180 days of enactment.
New SAA Office of Member Outreach and Security Coordination. — The Committee finds that identifying and evaluating risks to Members is challenging given the large number of Members and their varying schedules for both on and off-campus events. This challenge is further heightened given evolving physical threats to Members, as highlighted by the 2017 shooting in Alexandria, Virginia. To continue addressing these challenges in the Senate, the SAA is directed to establish an Office of Member Outreach and Security Coordination using current resources and current staff dedicated to liaising with Senators’ offices. The mission and duties of the new office will be to conduct direct outreach to Senators’ offices and to groups comprised of multiple Senators in order to create better awareness, with willing Senators’ offices, of Senators’ activities off of the Capitol campus; to seek tools, such as technology, that may improve and accelerate such awareness; to educate and train staff, including schedulers, regional representatives, and Chief Clerks, to identify and alert the SAA and the United States Capitol Police [USCP] of events or activities that may warrant a threat assessment; and to facilitate threat assessments and security coordination with the USCP as well as Federal and local law enforcement, as appropriate. The SAA is directed to report to the Committee not less than 90 days after enactment on a detailed plan for the office, including identifying potential additional resources that may be needed to carryout such responsibilities.
Office Cybersecurity. — The Committee directs SAA to utilize funds provided for fiscal year 2018 to: enable personal and committee offices to utilize third-party cybersecurity services to protect the privacy and integrity of office networks; provide annual cybersecurity audits for all Senate offices; provide enhanced cybersecurity training for each Senate office; institute protections against insider threats; and institute and operationalize enhanced privacy protections within the Senate network.
Senators’ Personal Cybersecurity. — The Committee continues to be concerned that Senators are being targeted for hacking and cyberattacks, especially via their personal devices and accounts. The Committee appreciates the efforts of the bipartisan Senators’ Personal Cybersecurity Working Group established by the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2018 to identify, develop, and recommend options to provide enhanced cybersecurity for Senators’ personal communications devices and accounts. The Committee encourages the working group to continue collaborating across offices in a bipartisan manner and consulting with the Senate community and external experts to provide a comprehensive report on options to improve Senators’ personal cybersecurity by the required deadline of September 19, 2018. The Committee also reiterates that such report must include an analysis of an option or options that would provide for a direct provision of services by the Senate Sergeant At Arms upon voluntary election by an individual Senator and that privacy protections must be a component of each option.
Inspector General Budgets. — The Committee believes it is important to ensure independence between Legislative Branch Inspector Generals [IG] and their respective reporting agencies and expects to see a separate section in each agency’s fiscal year 2020 budget justification reflecting a detailed budget request for the agency’s IG Office. Additionally, the Committee directs each IG to keep the Committee fully apprised of its funding needs, and the Committee directs each agency not to interfere with or require approval for such communications.
Congressional Budget Office
Promoting Transparency. — The Congressional Budget Office provides Congress with budgetary and economic analysis that is important to the legislative process and can have significant policy implications. The Committee supports CBO’s current and planned efforts of improving and promoting transparency of the agency’s modeling and cost estimate process. CBO should continue with efforts on transparency that respect the interests of Congress and maintain the agency’s professional independence. To that end, the Committee provides funding to support CBO’s request to hire an estimated 10 new employees (8 FTEs) for transparency and responsiveness efforts for fiscal year 2019. Further, the Committee directs CBO to provide the Committee with a report on planned future transparency efforts within 90 days of enactment, which should also include proposals on making supporting documents covering methods and assumptions used in analyses and cost estimates publicly available to a greater degree, and review the feasibility of placing interactive models online and releasing source code for computer programs used in analyses.
Financial Systems Modernization
The Committee recommends an appropriation of $10,036,000 for expenses of the Office of the Secretary. The recommendation is $1,100,000 below the fiscal year 2018 appropriation and equal to the fiscal year 2019 request. Of the total provided, the Committee recommends an appropriation of $3,600,000 to remain available until expended of which $3,000,000 is for the Financial Management Information System Modernization and $6,436,000 to remain available until September 30, 2023, of which $5,136,000 is for the Senate Information Services program.
Congressional Research Service
Update to Public Products Program. — The fiscal year 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 115–141) included a provision directing the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service [CRS] to make available to the public all non-confidential CRS products on a website operated and maintained by the Library of Congress. As per the Statement of Managers to accompany Public Law 115–141, ‘‘Non-confidential CRS products include any written CRS products containing research or analysis that are currently available for general congressional access on the CRS Congressional Intranet, or that would be made available on the CRS Congressional Intranet in the normal course of business. Non-confidential CRS reports do not include material prepared in response to Congressional requests for confidential analysis or research.’’ The Committee seeks to make clear its intent that CRS will continue to treat any material prepared in response to Congressional requests for confidential analysis or research, including the requests themselves, as confidential to that Member of Congress and/ or his or her Congressional staff, and CRS may not make public such requests, analysis or research. The Committee also directs CRS to conduct and participate in outreach to House and Senate Member Offices, Committees, and other Congressional users to ensure that the Congressional community is aware that such longstanding confidentiality assurances will continue unchanged.
Congressional Research Service Modernization. — The Committee recognizes the tremendous value that the Congressional Research Service [CRS] has added to Congress by providing objective, authoritative, nonpartisan, and confidential research and analysis on the breadth of policy issues considered during each legislative session since its inception in 1914. Included in the Committee’s recommendation is $4,000,000 to continue modernization of CRS’s mission-specific information systems to increase efficiency of the office while protecting confidentiality of congressional data.
Strengthening Research Capacity. — The Committee appreciates CRS finding innovative ways to meet congressional demand in a resource constrained environment. To restore lost research capacity, the Committee recommendation provides $2,743,000 to support an additional 20 full-time equivalents.
— Written by Daniel Schuman