Forecast for March 25, 2019. Only the best and most serious people.

MUELLER LITE? Recess is over, Congress is back, and appropriations season is in full swing, but what is everyone talking about? Sigh. As my kids would say, “BORING!” Let’s talk about Congress instead. The House and Senate are back for three weeks.

PROPOSED HOUSE COMMITTEE ALLOTMENTS (i.e., how much the House will spend on each of its committees) have three surprises for anyone crazy enough to do the numbers. Yep, we’re that crazy. Continue reading “Forecast for March 25, 2019. Only the best and most serious people.”

Forecast for March 18, 2019. The seven-per-cent solution.

SEVEN PERCENT OF THE HOUSE, or 32 Members, spoke at a Member’s Day hearing of the Fix Congress Committee, held on Tuesday, with 35 members submitting written testimony. (VideoWitness statements). The 3 hour hearing, which followed the committee’s organizational meeting that adopting committee rules, is too complex to recap, but we summarized the subject matter in this spreadsheet. FWIW, I was generally impressed by the testimony.

Of the 22 Democrats and 10 Republicans who testified, the most popular issues were staff pay and benefits (8 members), modernizing technology (6 members), and investing in the institution (6 members). Of the three, modernizing technology had bipartisan speakers. In addition, other popular items, such as addressing committee jurisdictions (e.g, fixing the budget process), cyber security, and improving the House calendar, had bipartisan speakers. Roll Call and Issue One have a summary of the proceedings. Follow the committee’s new twitter account here. Continue reading “Forecast for March 18, 2019. The seven-per-cent solution.”

Forecast for March 11, 2019. The Not at SXSW Edition.

IT’S SUNSHINE WEEK, devoted to all things transparency, and there are a ton of Congress tie-ins.

On the House floorset for a vote this week, are: the Access to Congressionally Mandated Report Act (which requires all agency reports sent to Congress to be online on a central website); the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2019 (to improve transparency of the 1,000 federal advisory committees); the Federal Register Modernization Act (which would require the Federal Register to be published electronically, and changes how agencies file); the Electronic Message Preservation Act (which requires the Archivist to promulgate regulations on managing electronic records); and a resolution (H. Con. Res. 24) that Mueller’s report should be publicly available; and more.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee will examine transparency under the Trump administration on Wednesday, with a focus on FOIA. Apparently, the Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to take a pass this Sunshine Week on its annual oversight hearing, which was a consistent feature when Sens. Grassley and Leahy previously ran the committee.

Federal agencies and civil society are hosting a number of events, including a half-day extravaganza on Monday hosted by the National Archives featuring the Archivist, congressional staff, OGIS, and several federal judges. Go herefor the full calendar of events. Continue reading “Forecast for March 11, 2019. The Not at SXSW Edition.”

A Look at the US Capitol Police

The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) has the mission of ensuring public access to our elected officials while protecting members of Congress and the Capitol campus. The USCP is well resourced, with a $450 million budget — a little larger than the budget for the police department serving Austin, Texas, which has a population of 950,000 people — and amounts to 10% of overall legislative branch spending. The department has over 2,200 employees, which is slightly more personnel than the Atlanta, Georgia, police department. USCP is one of the very few legislative branch agencies to have grown larger over the decades, with an approximate 3% budget increase annually.

What does the well-resourced Capitol Police department do with this significant capacity?

At the tail end of 2018 — prompted by multiple requests — the Capitol Police began publishing weekly arrest summaries online in PDF format. (We retyped that data into this arrest spreadsheet.) We also requested arrest summaries that were made available to some journalists prior to 2019 as well as basic arrest demographic information in a data format, but those requests were not fulfilled.

We analyzed the information that is available — 86 incidents involving 160 individuals between December 19, 2018, and February 28, 2019.

We found the following trends: Continue reading “A Look at the US Capitol Police”

Feds Lag in Publishing Funding Requests

Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are plain-language explanations of how an agency proposes to spend money it requests that Congress appropriate, but how easy is it for congressional staff and citizens to find these documents? Demand Progress surveyed 456 federal agencies and entities for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and found:

  • 7.5 percent of the 173 agencies with congressional liaisons, i.e., 13 agencies, published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. (Agencies with congressional liaison offices routinely interact with Congress). If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure becomes 3.3 percent, or 5 agencies, out of 152 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. The failure of one agency to publish their report impacts a number of sub-agencies. Among the agencies/entities inconsistent in their reporting is the Executive Office of the President, which houses the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the Office of the Vice President.
  • 6.1 percent of the 456 agencies we surveyed published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure changes to 3.1 percent, or 10 agencies, out of 318 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. Among the agencies/entities that inconsistently published their CBJs online are (yet again) the Executive Office of the President and the Access Board.
  • 21 percent of the 456 agencies we surveyed did not publish a CBJ. This is on top of the 6.1 percent that published only one CBJ for 2018 and 2019. We do not know whether these agencies were required to publish a CBJ, or whether their justification might be aggregated under another agency that did not publish its report. Unfortunately, there is no publicly-available comprehensive list of agencies that must publish these justifications.
  • All 24 CFO Act agencies — i.e., those agencies with a Chief Financial Officer created under the CFO Act — published their CBJs online.

Continue reading “Feds Lag in Publishing Funding Requests”

Forecast for March 4, 2019. This House Is Falling Apart.

IT WILL COST BILLIONS to keep the Congress from literally (physically) falling apart, the acting Architect of the Capitol explained at an appropriations hearing last week. Read this round-up (with a nifty chart!) of the four legislative branch appropriations hearings on GAO, GPO, AOC, and CBO. One big take-away: if the House is going to modernize — or even keep things barely scraping along — appropriators must significantly increase the size of the appropriations pie going to Leg Branch. The original AOC is asking for a $100m bump this year. (There’s more in the blog, such as on IC oversight.)

The next budget fight is all cued up, as the Treasury is already taking extraordinary measures to pay the bills, with the tick-tick-tick-boom set to explode in September, just in time for the new fiscal year. Does anyone wanna talk about spending caps? Continue reading “Forecast for March 4, 2019. This House Is Falling Apart.”

The Congress’s Edifice Problem

According to the Architect of the Capitol, it will take several billion dollars to keep the Congress from literally falling apart. This, and much more, was the subject of four legislative branch appropriations hearings this past week.

It’s not just the physical infrastructure of Congress that’s eroding, the power of the institution has taken a hit over the years with budget cuts. The result has been executive branch overreach as well as cyber security and IT practices falling miles behind best practices.

The legislative branch appropriations subcommittee in charge of doling out the funds that keep the branch functioning has the smallest pot of money to work with in the federal government: last year its funding was only approximately $4.3 billion, with overall federal spending about 1000x greater at $4.3 trillion.

To put this in context, $1.244 trillion was allocated to the 12 appropriations committees for FY 2019. The amount for the legislative branch is so small you can’t see it on the chart — it’s the bright green sliver. Here’s the amounts from least to greatest: Legislative Branch ($4.8b), Agriculture ($23b), Financial Services ($23b), Interior & Environment ($35.6b), Energy & Water ($44.6b), State & Foreign Ops ($46.2b), Homeland Security ($49.4b), Commerce & Science & Justice ($64.1b), Transportation & HUD ($71.1b), Military Construction & VA ($97.1b), Labor & HHS & Education ($178.1b), Defense ($606.5b). (There’s an additional $77b for “Overseas Contingent Operations,” of which $67.9b went to Defense.)

Screenshot 2019-03-01 at 5.10.22 PM Continue reading “The Congress’s Edifice Problem”