Forecast for July 30, 2018. Congressional Pay Study, plus Congress’ Official Intranet, DemCom, is New and Improved.

TOP LINE

— Appropriations will continue to dominate Congressional attention even as the House goes into recess, with another minibus teed up in the Senate this week and President Trump threatening to shut down the government. The House has scheduled 19 sessions days before the November election; only 11 before the end of the fiscal year. The Senate has 40 session days before the election; only 22 before the end of the fiscal year.

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LEGISLATIVE CAPACITY

New Version of DemCom

— House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer’s office has released a new version of DemCom, the official intranet for House Democratic staff. It’s hidden from public view, although Rep. Hoyer’s staffer Steve Dwyer gave a phenomenal overview of an earlier version of the internal communication and legislative tracking tool at the 2013 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference (watch it here).

— DemCom and other congressional intranet sites illustrate how congressional offices make use of information that’s published as data by people inside and outside the legislative branch, and also the gaps between what’s publicly available online and what’s necessary for people to understand what Congress is doing. Much of the aggregating work could be done by the chamber as a whole, or (in theory) by support agencies like the Library of Congress, but for now it’s been left to the parties. Of particular note:

— DemCom 4.0 now pulls, organizes, and threads all Democratic Legislative Director listserv emails by office and legislation. With high congressional staff turnover rates, DemCom can become an institutional memory on what was done, and by whom, concerning particular legislation.

— It aggregates lots of other information about bills, including third-party information originating outside of the legislative branch.

— It has a directory of all House staff and identifies the issue areas on which they work. While the House itself does a great job of publishing a staff directory, it does not include issue areas; Congress purchases issues area data from an outside vendor.

— It contains a dynamic calendar of items of importance to members of the House, including the voting schedule, outside group Congressional fly-ins and conferences, all House committee schedules, major member and staff meetings, and leadership press events.

— House Republicans and Senate Democrats and Republicans have their own internal websites as well, with various features. For example, the Senate has a way of tracking amendments that simply is unavailable to the public.

“Problem Solvers” caucus issues rules reform recs

— The House “Problem Solvers” caucus, a bipartisan group of members of Congress aligned with the centrist advocacy group “No Labels,” was reported in the New York Times and elsewhere to have issued recommendations on changing the rules of the House of Representatives.

— My initial review of their 10 draft recommendations suggests that the recommendations are small ball or generally ineffectual.

— The proposal is significantly better than the recommendations issued by No Labels itself, some of which are unconstitutional or actively harmful to the House of Representatives.

It’s been a while, but Congress used to look at whether congressional staff are getting equal pay for equal work, and they will do so again. (The Hill)

OVERSIGHT

— A bipartisan coalition expressed deep concerns with a proposal by Democratic members of the Gang of Eight that the Director of National Intelligence should bypass intelligence committee members and brief only the chairs/ranking members and chamber leadership. A bipartisan coalition of 24 organizations explained that the intelligence committees were formed to conduct oversight of the intelligence community and, except in very limited circumstances, should be kept fully informed.

— On Tuesday a House Oversight subcommittee held a hearing on the Free Flow of Information Act (HR 4382) a bipartisan reporter shield law co-sponsored by Reps. Jim Jordan, Jamie Raskin, and 10 others. The News Media Alliance recapped the hearing; reporter shield laws exist in 49 states but the federal government still has the power to force journalists to reveal their sources during a federal investigation.

— The black budget isn’t just secret, it is misleading, with agencies acting as pass-through entities to fund other agencies, explained Secrecy News.

LEGISLATIVE PROCESS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE

— A study found greater staff diversity leads to greater consensus in Senate committees. “A committee with a roster featuring racial diversity, or a balance of executives and non-executives, or lawyers and non-lawyers, is less likely to produce a report with a dedicated section for minority or alternative views and therefore more likely to have found consensus on a legislative solution.” (Leg Branch)

— Polarization doesn’t cause gridlock in Congress; it results “when members of both political parties seek to avoid adjudicating controversial issues publicly.” The solution? Increasing the ability of all members of Congress to participate in the legislative process, said James Wallner and Daniel Stid on the Hewlett Foundation’s website.

— Symbolic “plus-minus” appropriations amendments have no substantive effect, except perhaps something to brag about on the campaign trail, Roll Call reported.

— ” Pairing votes” can help support legislatures to become more inclusive institutions. (Money Cage)

TRANSPARENCY

— Reps. Quigley and Lance, the original House co-sponsors of legislation requiring CRS reports to be publicly available, issued a letter that identified significant failings in the Library of Congress’s plan to make the reports publicly available. Later that day, at a hearing with the Librarian of Congress before the Committee on House Administration, Rep. Lofgren asked Dr. Hayden about problems with the Library’s CRS report publication plans that were identified by civil society and requested the Librarian meet with outside groups; Dr. Hayden sidestepped the meeting request.

— Sen. Tester introduced the Spotlight Act (bill text not yet available) to reverse the Treasury Department and once again require non-profits to disclose their donors to the IRS.

— The White House has ended public summaries of foreign calls. It admitted, after more than a week of denials, that its transcript of the Putin-Trump press conference had omitted or misrepresented an important exchange in which Putin admitted he wanted Trump to win the election, and belatedly updated the transcript. The White House also prevented a reporter from covering an eventbecause she had previously asked tough questions.

— The National Archives’ Office of Government Information Services released its 2017 agency FOIA self-assessment results; it notes that most agencies are using email to send records and responses to requesters.

— GAO issued a report on implementation of the DATA Act, a federal spending transparency law. Among their findings: “about half of the agencies met Office of Management and Budget and Department of the Treasury requirements for the implementation and use of data standards. The OIGs also reported that most agencies’ first data submissions were not complete, timely, accurate, or of quality.”

TECHNOLOGY

— Sens. Hatch and Wyden, the chair and ranking members of the Senate Finance committee, introduced bipartisan legislation (S. 3246) that would, among other things, require the electronic filing of all nonprofit tax returns. While nonprofit tax returns already in theory are publicly available, a bare majority are released in a digital format; this provision means they all can be released online in a machine-readable format that can be accessed and analyzed by the public for free. The House of Representatives passed a measure (H.R. 5443) on this specific point earlier this year. The Aspen Institute has lead the legislative charge on this issue.

— A House Oversight Subcommittee held a hearing on modernizing grant management, which included a focus on providing a 360 degree view of federal grantmaking and making sure that USASpending.gov, a federal spending portal, has up-to-date, complete, and reliable information. The Data Coalition summarized the hearing here.

— Some prominent republicans were “shadow” banned from Twitter, including members of Congress, Vice reported. Apparently, the temporary limited visibility of some prominent Republicans was “a side effect of its attempts to clean up discourse on its platform,” said Vice.

— A brief history of microfilm, from the Atlantic.

ETHICS

— Former Congressman and current Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt is under investigation for multiple instances of sexual harassment, Politico reported. When in Congress, Watt offered an amendment to cut funding for the Office of Congressional Ethics by 40% after it investigated and declined to recommend an Ethics Committee investigation concerning his withdrawal of an amendment to put auto dealerships under the jurisdiction of the CFPB after receiving campaign contributions by interested parties.

— The House Ethics Committee voted against impanelling an investigative subcommittee into Rep. Pramila Jayapal for participating in a protest in a Senate Office building against the administration’s border policies.

— After all this time lobbying, Sen. Dodd made his debut as a federally registered lobbyist, according to Legistorm. (After chairing the Senate Banking committee, Sen. Dodd retired from the Senate in January 2011 and became the head the Motion Picture Association of America in March, where he represented the movie industry’s interests until 2017.)

— Rep. Tom Garrett, who announced in May he would not run for re-election after it became public that he forced staff to perform personal business and behaved erratically, is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics, Politico reported.

— A federal judge ordered former Rep. Farenthold to testify on whether he was hired illegally by a Texas port authority, the Huffington Post reported.

— The New York Times editorial board opined on senate leaders undermining sexual harassment accountability legislation. “Once lawmakers return, they’ll have the chance to demonstrate their seriousness by making quick work of ending this stalemate — and keeping the House bill’s provisions intact. Anything short of an overhaul of Congress’s sexual harassment policies would be a disappointment.” Meanwhile, NBC wonders whether House and Senate negotiators have hit an impasse.

POLITICS

— Russian hackers are conducting cyber attacks on candidates for Congress in the 2018 election, according to the Daily Beast. Sen. McCaskill, who has a tight election race, reportedly is a target.

— Jim Jordan became the first member of Congress to announce he is running for Speaker, the Washington Post reported.

— House conservatives are pushing a resolution (H. Res 1028) to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It’s worth remembering that even if the House votes to impeach, conviction requires a 2/3s majority in the Senate. According to CRS, the House has impeached 19 individuals total, including only one cabinet member. According to Politico, Speaker Ryan has cast cold water on the impeachment effort. A compromise has postponed consideration of the measure until September.

— Texas’s state delegation may trade support for Rep. McCarthy as speaker in return for Rep. Granger as chairman of the Appropriations committee, Politico reported. As an interesting aside, Rep. Graves, as chair of the FSGG approps subcommittee, overrode the objections of fellow appropriators to push spending recissions and did not spend all the money appropriated to the subcommittee he chaired.

— The Hill profiled 10 dark horse candidates for Speaker.

ODDS & ENDS

— Senator Wyden asked the US government to remove Flash from all federal websites.

— A federal grand jury indicted a man for making death threats against Rep. Diane Black, who is running for governor of Tennessee, the Tennessean reported.

— The Kennedy Institute released a poll on Americans attitudes toward the Senate. 57% of people polled say they want a senator who is in touch and listens to people; 76% say most senators are out of touch with the people in their states. The biggest improvement they’d like to see? 38% say changes to campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of special interests. 54% of those polled were unaware that a senator serves a six year term.

CALENDAR

The House is in recess until Tuesday, September 4, although it likely will hold pro forma sessions throughout the rest of the summer.

The Senate returns on Monday, with the first vote expected at 5:30. First degree amendments for the minibus are due at 4. The Senate’s calendar is unclear. According to the tentative 2018 legislative schedule, the Senate will be in session next week and go on recess on August 6