Forecast for August 6, 2018. Transparency Bills Are Stuck and the Clock Is Ticking.

TICKING CLOCK ON TRANSPARENCY BILLS

The House and Senate have about a dozen good government and transparency bills that have widespread support, have advanced through the chambers, but are now stuck for no apparent (or good) reason. Here’s four of them:

— The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (HR 4631), which requires all mandated agency reports to Congress to be made available on GPO’s website. The measure was unanimously voted to be favorably reported out of the House Oversight and House Administration committees, but House Administration still has not actually reported the bill despite the April vote, apparently because it’s in a food fight with the Oversight committee. Should it pass the House the measure is teed up in the Senate.

— The GREAT Act (HR 4887), which directs the executive branch to adopt a standardized data structure for information that grantees must already report to agencies. House Oversight voted to report the measure in February, but still hasn’t done so.

— The Inspector General Recommendation Transparency Act (S. 2178), which requires the Council of Inspectors General to create a database of open Inspectors General report recommendations. The measure passed the Senate and is currently pending before the House Oversight committee.

— The GAO-IG Act (HR 5415), which requires each federal agency, in its annual budget justification, to report on whether it has implemented GAO recommendations. The measure passed the House in July and was sent to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. HSGAC voted to favorably report companion legislation in June, the GAO-IG Act (S 2276), but has not actually done so.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Chinese intelligence recruited a staff member in Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office who provided political intelligence to his handlers, Politico and the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The FBI alerted her of the matter five years ago — which by my math would make her the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee — and the staffer was let go. Feinstein wouldn’t comment for the story, saying the office doesn’t comment on  personnel matters.

LEGISLATIVE CAPACITY

— What insights can we learn from TechCongress’s placement of tech-smart fellows in Congressional offices? Here’s an independent progress report three years on.

OVERSIGHT

— The Senate passed 92-6 a minibus appropriations package (HR 5895) that included the Financial Services General Government appropriations bill, Roll Call reported. This is the first time the FSGG approps bill has ever passed the Senate when it’s not part of a year-end omnibus package.

— The National Defense Authorization Act conference report passed the Senate on Wednesday; it will go to the president’s desk, having passed the House last week.

— Did Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testify accurately during his 2006 confirmation hearing when he made seemingly misleading statements concerning his involvement with the Bush administration’s torture program? Senator Leahy addressed this, and more, in a speech on the Senate floor concerning access to records concerning Kavanuagh’s service in the White House. Incidentally, PBS reported the National Archives needs until the end of October to complete review of the documents it holds concerning the nominee.

— Sen. Grassley ased Trump to hold a ceremony honoring whistleblowers, Federal News Radio reported.

LEGISLATIVE PROCESS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE

— High staff turnover rates can be a big sign that a member of Congress is in trouble, wrote Casey Burgat in the Washington Post.

— Don’t mess with August recess: it’s the law, says the R Street Institute.

— The Washington Post called Justin Amash the new “Dr. No,” in a nod to Sen. Coburn, or perhaps the eponymous James Bond villain, arguing that the libertarian congressman is marooned in the House filled with nationalist conservatives. In my experience, Rep. Amash isn’t as lonesome as the Post portrays, and his willingness to follow his beliefs illustrates one path to bipartisan legislation built on shared values.

— Senate party leaders are powerful because rank-and-file senators defer to them to manage the institution how they see fit, not because it’s mandated by Senate rules, James Wallner wrote on LegBranch.

— Quorum played with Congressional Record data to see how often Fortune 100 companies were mentioned in Congress.

TRANSPARENCY

— A federal judge rejected a lawsuit that sought release of White House visitor logs (read her opinion), citing a 2013 precedent, Politico reported. For what it’s worth, the easiest way to obtain public access to the logs is to include a provision in the Financial Services General Government Appropriations bill that requires a regular report of the logs to Congress that, in doing so, sets forth the method of transmission as publication online. The language could be modeled after the Obama administration’s publication guidelines.

— The NSA Inspector General declassified and published its semi-annual report to Congress, the first time it has ever done so, GovExec reported. The report begins with a letter from the new IG, Robert Storch, who specifically singles out whistleblower rights and protection as a priority for the IG.

— 24 good government and openness non-profit organizations wrote White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in protest of the administration’s preventing a reporter from doing her job because it didn’t like a question she asked at a prior event.

TECHNOLOGY

— Nearly 17 months into his administration, Trump is set to nominate meteorologist Kelvin Droegmeier as the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, FedScoop reported. Will he be confirmed by the Senate? You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

— Accenture will build a new data center for the Library of Congress at a cost of $27.3 million, Fedscoop reported. InfoDocket has the RFP and award note.

ETHICS

— Attorney General Sessions, as a senator, was personally involved — as was his staff — with the eventual defendants in a bribery trial somehow connected to a campaign donor’s effort to undermine an EPA investigation, Mother Jones reported.

— The Washington Post has an extensive story on Paul Manafort and how he re-defined an exemplified what it means to be an influence peddler in Washington, D.C.

— According to the Office of Congressional Ethics’s most recent quarterly report, 8,300 private citizens contacted the office during the second quarter, two referrals were transmitted to the Ethics Committee for review, and one was transmitted to the Ethics Committee for dismissal. During 2018, two investigations were halted after the subject resigned. Let me know who and win a free subscription to this newsletter.

POLITICS

— The politics of when to shut down the government, from Fox News.

— Politico continues its speculation on the next Speaker of the House, this time with profiles of African American members of Congress.

ODDS & ENDS

— Shauna Johnson was arrested and charged with “criminal tampering” after she wrote “stop putting kids in cages” on the sidewalk outside Rep. Ken Buck’s office in Colorado. The citation could land her 12 months in jail and a $1000 fine. She was also warned that if she returned without an appointment, she’d be charged with trespassing. (ACLU of Colorado) And… the charges were dropped, Denver 7 reported. Rep. Buck has no comment.

— A New York man was arrested for threatening members of Congress, the Japan Times reported.

— Three men arrested impersonating Senate staff, Roll Call reported.

CALENDAR

The House and Senate are in recess