IT’S SUNSHINE WEEK, devoted to all things transparency, and there are a ton of Congress tie-ins.
On the House floor, set 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.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE ON FIXING CONGRESS. Fans of improving the First Branch will have an incredibly busy week, and by week, I mean Tuesday.
The Fix Congress Committee will hold its organizational meeting Tuesday at 9 and then jump immediately at 9:30 into a member day hearing in H-313. I’m hearing there’s a ton of interest. Members who want to testify in person must contact the committee by COB Monday, March 11 — reach out to Leah Li. Written testimony can be submitted to Ms. Li by COB Tuesday, March 12.
House Leg Branch Approps will be busy, with a hearing on Tuesday at 10 on the Budget for the House of Representatives (ft. the Clerk, the Sergeant at Arms, the CAO, the Leg Counsel, the General Counsel, the IG, and the head of the OLRC), and at 11 the US Capitol Police will make their annual budget request. Note: it is well worth your time to read the statement submitted for the record by the House offices because they contain tons of information and status updates. If we weren’t writing a shortened version of this newsletter, there’s at least a half-dozen newsworthy updates in the Clerk and CAO’s reports alone.
The House Admin Committee will hold its committee funding meeting on Tuesday at 2. The Chairs/RMs of all the committees (except approps) will testify regarding their budget requests, and House Admin will later decide what to dole out to each committee (except appropriators, which are funded independently). We recently wrote about how House committees get their money and which committees have come out ahead, and behind, from that funding process over the last 20 years. The big picture: total spending on committees is down by more than 25 percent, or $100 million, from its peak (using inflation adjusted dollars).
It feels ridiculous to have this section on the President’s budget, which is DOA, but it will be the subject of hearings by the House Budget Committee(Tuesday), the Senate Budget Committee (Wednesday), Ways and Means(Thursday), and the Senate Finance Committee (Thursday). The President’s Budget Request is gobbledegook, but the Congressional Budget Justifications — the plain language explanation of what agencies are actually requesting — are gold, if you can find them. You should read our new report, out today, on how hard it is to find the CBJs and what should done to improve accessibility. Short version: OMB should follow Congress’s request and publish all the CBJs on a central website, and Congress should publish the leg branch CBJs. We also tell you where to find them. You’re welcome.
If your not pooped from all these hearings, the Brookings Institute updated its super-useful vital statistics on Congress; Fix Congress Committee Chair Derek Kilmer shared his thoughts on priorities for the committee at a BPC event; and the House has an updated vote calendar. BPC also released an issue brief on how Congress is governing, although I have serious concerns about whether the metrics are appropriate for the purpose. See instead the best big picture view is the decline of congressional expertise in 10 charts.
SO, ‘BOUT THEM ETHICS?
The Office of Congressional Ethics, the House’s independent ethics watchdog, still hasn’t had its board members named by Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy. This is problematic because OCE cannot open an investigation without its board members. Pelosi and McCarthy are waaay late on the appointments, which, by comparison, happened on January 23rd in the 115th Congress, January 21st in the 114th Congress, and January 23rd in the 113th Congress.
Ex-Rep. Aaron Schock got the deal of a lifetime when federal prosecutors agreed to drop criminal charges if he pays back taxes and reimburses his campaign. It’s worth re-reading OCE’s findings on Mr. Schock, and note how people (now members of Congress) refused to testify before OCE. Schock resigned from Congress hours after Politico reported on “tens of thousands of dollars of questionable reimbursements.” The Ethics Committee stopped its investigation when he resigned, which they always do (but shouldn’t). Schock says he might again run for office.
Jerod Prunty, Rep. Clay Higgins’ district director, was arrested for involvement in human trafficking.
Party dues accounted for 20% of all campaign spending for top lawmakers,
I’M RUNNING OUT OF CLEVER TITLES, but here are some more things you should know.
The House passed H.R. 1, the voting, ethics, and campaign finance reform bill (the “for the people” act), and it will die in the Senate as Mitch McConnell will make sure it never, ever comes up for a vote. But a major premise of the legislation, intended to reform our political system, is that the very unpopularMcConnell (who appears to be packing suitcase nukes) won’t serve as Senate Majority leader after the election, and may even no longer be in the Senate. As a side note, it looks like Dems are readying H.R.s 2 to 10.
The Library of Congress was the subject of two hearings: Senate Rules and House Leg Branch Approps. The Senate hearing was short and light on detail, and the House hearing was more substantive but on issues not that connected to this newsletter. Most relevant was the consolidation of IT inside the CIO — apparently eliminating separate IT teams in the units of the Library — and the creation of a Digital Strategy Office to work on digital projects that engage with the public. There was mention of the Law Library creating a pilot program to digitize 1,000 volumes of congressional material contained in the US Serial Set. And a discussion in the House on the retirement of LIS, set for July, and a promise that all functionality of LIS would be available at Congress.gov before the legacy system is shut down. Congress.gov debuted in 2012, so it’s time. CRS is not asking for any more funding, and we’re hearing that they don’t know what to do with the funding bump (and additional staff) they got last year, which is too bad because they should ramp up their capacity and modernize their services. Finally, we don’t have an opinion on the Library transforming itself (in part) into a museum, but we are concerned about the lack of discussion by the Library on making its resources on Congressional activity available online to everyone regardless of whether they’re in D.C.
Notorious racist Steve King managed to avoid a censure vote, thanks to Democratic leadership, and yet these same leaders extended the political drama around Ilhan Omar in a stupid version of “both sides.” Trump weighed in, of course, claiming Democrats are anti-Jewish, which seems unlikely given 34 House & Senate Dems are Jewish (plus 2 Republicans). And now, ladies and gentlemen, Adam Sandler.
The Capitol Police arrested 9 individuals this week. They’re up for their oversight hearing this week, and just in time we’ve just released this sneak peak of our new report on the Capitol Police.
Hey, Rep. Jeffries! It’s been 33 days since you said the Democratic Caucus would consider releasing its caucus rules. Why the delay?
CRS posted 391 reports between Feb. 5th and March 5th. All R series reports are expected to be available online by April, and the other reports will be online by October.
OGIS released its annual FOIA report, which celebrates 10 years of existence for the ombudsman. This last year saw the first release of an advisory opinion, and we’re hoping for more. Incidentally, DOJ’s OIP is publishing agency annual FOIA reports here, although it seems many are missing. Our friends at the National Security Archive audited delays in FOIA processing.
Round-up. Pelosi’s COS is leaving, although I don’t see any reports on where he’s going; Sen. Schumer called on McConnell to create a select committee on the climate crisis; and the Supreme Court isn’t even talking about live video of its hearings.