Forecast for July 23, 2018. Appropriations in the Spotlight, Plus Whistleblower Cases Have Doubled Over the Last Five Years.

THE TOP LINE

The Committee on House Administration is the focus of several conversations.

— 30 good government organizations asked House Admin to send the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act to the floor before the recess. The Committee voted to report the measure three months ago but has not actually reported the bill as part of a thus far unsuccessful effort to prompt the Oversight Committee to report another bill on federal depository libraries.

— In addition, a flurry of articles focused on the Library of Congress’s poorly constructed plan to publish CRS reports. Demand Progress, the R Street Institute, and GovTrack say the Library’s plan does not comply with the law that required them to put the reports online and issued a report spelling out the gritty details. (The Library says everything’s fine.)

— The Library is testifying before the Committee on Wednesday on its strategic plan; there also will be a vote on Committee resolution 115-20, which is not yet publicly available.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh took a controversial and expansive view of Executive Branch power versus the other branches of Congress, arguing in 1999 that the seminal, unanimous court opinion U.S. v. Nixon was wrongly decided. At issue was whether Nixon must turn over to the special prosecutor investigating Watergate audio tapes of Oval Office conversations. Nixon claimed he had an absolute “executive privilege” that gave him the right to withhold information from other branches of government. The Court held executive privilege is limited, not unqualified and absolute, it is exists in the areas of military or diplomatic affairs, and it can be overcome by a showing of need. Kavanaugh said “maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision,” according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Read more on the history and scope of presidential claims of executive privilege in this CRS report.

The appropriations bills are lurching forward, with the Senate set to vote on the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill on Monday; the House version passed this past week 217-199. Notable is that the Senate version contains funding for Oversight.gov, a central website for IG reports. House Appropriators will markup the Homeland Security bill on Wednesday. (CRS just released a report comparing funding for DHS components.)

Curious about the Foreign Agents Registration Act? Come to a panel hosted by the Congressional Transparency Caucus this Thursday at 2pm in Rayburn 2456. RSVP here. This past Friday, the Project on Government Oversight released 8 recommendations on countering foreign influence.

OVERSIGHT

— Despite sustained efforts, the backlog of whistleblower and prohibited personnel practice cases at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel has more than doubled over a five year period, according to a Federal Times article on a GAO report. GAO made seven recommendations, all of which were agreed to by OSC. GovExec focused on OSC’s need to better communicate timelines to whistleblowers and address how it handles internal complaints.

— An email preservation bill, the Electronic Message Preservation Act (HR 1376), passed the House last week. GovExec characterized the bipartisan bill as requiring “agencies and the White House to modernize their systems for preserving email records.” Specifically, the measure requires new systems to make emails retrievable through (internal) search engines as well as tightening rules to preserve the messages.

— The next big hurdle for IGs is direct access to data systems. (Federal News Radio)

— FOIA backlogs are increasing, especially at large agencies, while some are making increasing use of proactive disclosure, Federal News Radio reported.

LEGISLATIVE CAPACITY

— Congressional committees have shifted staff from policymaking to communications roles, going from a 25:1 ratio to 5:1. (Washington Post)

— Senate Democrats released diversity statistics on their staffs, with some members, like Sen. Feinstein, way out of line compared to the state populations they represent, Roll Call reported.

— In a recent article, Federal Computer Week asked whether Congress is expanding its knowledge to meet oversight demands concerning science and technology.

— Tech Congress is recruiting 10 legislative fellows to work in Congress for one year starting in January 2019. Applications are open now through September 9.

LEGISLATIVE PROCESS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE

— House Judiciary Dems will invoke a little-used rule to try to force a hearing on legislation to prevent Trump from removing special counsel Robert Muller, Politico reported.

— Impeachment resolutions circumvent leadership’s ability to set the agenda. (Legislative Procedure Blog)

— A catalog of 100+ examples of participatory lawmaking worldwide. (H/T Beth Noveck)

POLITICS

— Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Linda Sanchez announced her bid for Democratic Caucus Chair, Politico reported. Will she move to release the Democratic caucus rules as congressional republicans have done?

— Rep. Jeffries also is weighing a bid for Democratic Caucus Chair, Politico reports.

— The Huffington Post explored the odds of Nancy Pelosi staying in power.

— The White House appears to be phasing out press briefings, according to CNN.

TRANSPARENCY

— In an “only in Congress” moment, the Committee on House Administration has sat for more than 3 months on a transparency bill they themselves voted to report in April in a so-far unsuccessful attempt to get leverage over the Oversight Committee to report an unrelated GPO bill, Roll Call reported. The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (ACMRA) would require all agency reports to Congress required by law to be published on a central website, subject to appropriate reactions. A coalition of 30 organizations released a letter on Thursday asking House Admin to make like Pharaoh and let the bill go (to the floor) before time runs out.

— A Library of Congress spokesperson issued a not credible statementregarding that agency’s implementation of the public access to CRS reports law, and was quoted in Roll Call saying “The implementation plan is true to both the letter and the spirit of the law.” Read our analysis of how they fail to follow the law. Short version: they’re not publishing all the reports, they’re not publishing them on time, and they’re not publishing them properly.

— Can the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court hear motions for access to its records? Civil society argues yes, but in a brief filed this past week, the Justice Department said not only does the public have no right of access, the FISC lacks jurisdiction over its own opinions. (H/T Laura Donohue). In addition, For the first time in 40 years, the Department of Justice released a FISA application pursuant to a FOIA request.

— HHS deleted 20 years of critical medical guidelines this past week; according to the Daily Beast, HHS claims it’s due to budget cuts.

— The IRS rolled back longstanding donor disclosure requirements for many non-profits. Politico characterized the move as that the IRS will “no longer collect names or addresses of those who contribute $5,000 or more to all tax-exempt Section 501(c) groups, some of which donate to political campaigns.”

— At long last, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) released its first advisory opinion, focused on agency communications with requesters.

TECHNOLOGY

— Who owns and can republish the law? Carl Malamud won a round in the D.C. Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court and held that republication of rules incorporated by reference in the law could be protected as fair use, leaving the constitutional question for another day. EFF, which represented Carl, has more.

— Lawmakers got more angry responses than favorable ones to lawmakers’ posts on Facebook in the wake of the 2016 election, reversing their pre-election responses, Pew reported.

— Microsoft found a fake Microsoft domain used by the Russians to attack 3 congressional campaigns this year, Ars Technica reported.

— CategorizedTweets is a new tool that sorts tweets by lawmakers into eight key issues.

— TechCongress, the pipeline that brings scientists and engineers into Congress, continues to grow, FedScoop reported.

ETHICS

— The anti-congressional harassment bill still isn’t law, Roll Call reported.

— The Washington Post published a primer on leadership PACs, used by most members of Congress to cultivate wealthy donors.

— Issue One released a multi-organization letter in support of the Senate campaign e-filing provision included in the leg branch approps bill. The bill is set for a Senate vote this Monday.

— Here’s an interesting website that tracks junkets/ public appearances by Supreme Court justices. And another that tracks senators’ position on the current SCOTUS nominee.

ODDS & ENDS

— Judy Schneider, a CRS institution, was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Congressional Management Foundation, Roll Call reported.

— Who is targeting you with political ads on Facebook? ProPublica will tell you with this browser plug-in.

— The Data Coalition summarized the highlights from last week’s Legislative Data and Transparency Conference. And Roll Call took a look at a next project: Hey Alexa, what’s going on in the House of Representatives?

— The Capitol-Cannon tunnel floods again, Roll Call reported.

CALENDAR

Monday

• House resumes; first votes not expected until 6:30.

• Senate resumes; first vote expected at 5:30. The Senate will consider the appropriations minibus (Interior/FSGG/THUD/Ag).
Tuesday

• Voting cybersecurity — H. Oversight at 10

• SEC Commissioner nomination — S. Banking at 10
Wednesday

• Possible consideration of the conference report to accompany the National Defense Authorization Act — House of Representatives

• Hearing on nominations for Director of the National Counterterrorism Center and Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research — S. Intel at 9:30

• Homeland Security Budget markup (bill) — H. Appropriations at 10

• FCC Oversight (with all 5 commissioners) — H. Commerce at 1

• GAO High Risk Report: Cybersecurity — H. Oversight at 2. CRS just updated its report on cybersecurity.
Thursday

• Reorganizing OPM and GSA — S. HSGAC SubC at 10
Friday