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.

The proposed House Committee allotments have an $8 million reserve fund, but the House doesn’t usually have much in reserve, if any, with $2.5 million for last Congress and none when the Dems were last in charge. The Armed Services Committee, just as a comparator, is allotted $16m for all of the 116th Congress. What’s all that extra money for? What’s happening that could require tons of money? Hmmm.

The Fix Congress committee received a surprisingly small allocation, $487k, which by comparison is 1/7th of the money allotted to the Climate Crisis committee. I would have guessed they’d be funded at 2.5x that amount, which would make more sense given their mission. Good thing there’s that reserve fund, eh?

Fifteen House committees are slated to receive modest cuts from their 115th Congress funding levels, and five would receive a modest boost, generally amounting to a 1-2% change over prior funding levels. This doesn’t count the appropriations committee, which is funded separately, nor the two new select committees. (See how your favorite committee fared.)

What is surprising is that one would have thought that Democrats would have increased the funding for committees, which are down 22%, or $102 million below the $432 million funding level in the 111th Congress (adjusted for inflation). There’s little difference between how Dems and their immediate Republican predecessors funded the committees. Also, the proposed allotments are the same for both the first and second sessions of the 116th Congress, suggesting that Democrats either don’t plan on increasing committee funding or expect the appropriation for FY 2020 will be flat.

The House Administration Committee, which recommends allotment levels, will hold a rare Monday evening session to consider the allotment resolution, which must be passed by the House before the end of March.

THIS IS ANOTHER BUSY WEEK for hearings concerning Congressional capacity and oversight.

In FSGG approps world, OMB will testify before the House on Tuesday at 10— it’s worth noting that OMB, along with 118 other agencies of the 456 we surveyed, didn’t comply with the requirement to publish its budget justifications online in FY 2019. On Wednesday House FSGG has its member day hearing at 10 and public witness testimony at 1. In the Senate, the SEC is testifying about its FY 2020 budget at 2:30.

Also on deck, CJS approps has its member day hearing on Tuesday at 2. On Wednesday, Senate Rules has an oversight hearing for the Smithsonian Institutions at 10:30 plus the OG AOC and the Library of Congress will testify before Senate leg. branch approps at 3.

Are you submitting approps testimony in the House? Don’t forget to check out our handy approps testimony schedule.

— Member day written testimony for House approps is due today for Financial Services, on Wednesday for Labor-HHS, and on Friday for Interior and Transportation.

— Member day oral testimony requests for House approps are due on Friday for Energy and Homeland Security.

— Public witness written testimony is due on Tuesday for Financial Services, Wednesday for Leg. Branch, and Friday for MilCon.

Looking ahead, House Appropriations may start markups in April. And the Senate Leg Branch Approps Committee announced public written testimony is due May 3.

THE FIX CONGRESS COMMITTEE has its second hearing, “Congressional Reforms of the Past and Their Effect on Today’s Congress,” Wednesday at 2. Here’s the witness list. We expect a broad overview of the ghosts of Congress’s past.

Among the issues before the Committee is paid congressional internship. Low-to-no pay on the Hill has made it difficult for people who aren’t “rich kids” to work in Congress. The group Pay Our Interns launched a portal to serve as a “one stop shop” for those interested in paid internships, with the goal of fostering diversity on Capitol Hill.

The Committee also must address the issue of tech expertise (or lack thereof) on the Hill, both in terms of oversight of current issues and foresight to anticipate future issues. The question has led to debate over whether the answer is to strengthen GAO or bring back the Office of Tech Assessment (OTA). Given their different missions: hindsight as compared to foresight, por que no los dos?

THE OFFICE OF CONGRESSIONAL ETHICS IS BACK IN ACTION, with Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy belatedly appointing members to its Board two months later than usual. The House Ethics Committee also had a slow start, waiting until the end of February to have its organizational meeting.

OCE posted its report for the 4th quarter of 2018, which revealed that 2x as many private citizens contacted OCE during the 115th Congress as in the previous Congress. OCE referred 11 matters to the House Ethics Committee during the 115th Congress; no matters referred to the Ethics Committee are still pending release.

THE OFFICE OF CONGRESSIONAL WORKPLACE RIGHTS issued its biennial recs to improve the Congressional Accountability Act, suggesting that Congress implement updates to the Family and Medical Leave Act, portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. It also had recommendations to protect whistleblowers, address ADA compliance, and address a disparity for Wounded Warriors. Anyone looking at improving the quality of life on Capitol Hill should read the OCWR report — don’t worry, it’s short and uses a large font, and you can start on page 8. Congressional action is needed to approve their proposed regulations.

TRANSPARENCY. TRANSPARENCY? 

The federal court online record system PACER is a federally sponsored “scam.” According to Politico, the court system brings in $145 million each year by charging for access to records that belong to the public — and are supposed to be available to all on a cost-recovery basis.

Happy birthday C-SPAN! The cable-network provided service turned 40, and has brought coverage of Congress to millions while advocating for greater tv access. Because we are killjoys, we note that while C-SPAN’s broadcasts of floor proceedings are public domain, it only broadcasts select committee hearings and markups, and C-SPAN places restrictions on whether and how committee video can be used. Fortunately, the House and Senate webstream just about every committee proceeding, although it took a lot of prodding, and Congress foolishly (and unconstitutionally) asserts limits on the reuse of what clearly is public domain video. (See, e.g., House Rule V, clause 2c). As far as I know, only Senate approps markups are not webcast as video — they’re audio only — and some committees, like the House Intel Committee, routinely violaterules on public access.

The round-up: CRS posted 246 reports to CRSReports.Congress.Gov during the week ending March 19th; the Capitol Police reported 10 arrests during the week ending March 20th; and House Democrats still haven’t published their caucus rules despite pledges to consider the matter.

GAO wants information about non-elected political appointees, such as names, titles, salaries, and disclosures about assets, debts, and past salaries. Read the GAO report. Right now the only source for that information is ProPublica’s TrumpTown.

A FOIA matter is before the Supreme Court, and civil society submitted an amicus brief pushing back against the government’s overbroad definition of what is “confidential” under Exemption 4.

OVERSIGHT IN THE TRUMP ERA: The executive branch is notorious for delaying and avoiding Congress on its oversight requests, but is the Trump administration less compliant than its predecessors? Brookings built a tracker to help answer this question. House Oversight Chairman Cummings says the Trump administration has engaged in “an unprecedented level of stonewalling.” Also of concern: The security risks and potential federal records violations thatadministration officials’ use of private email and messaging apps pose.

Senator Leahy has a prescient warning for Trump: release the Mueller report. The cover-up doomed Nixon; don’t repeat that mistake.

LEGISLATIVE PROCESS

A little-known provision bars non-U.S. citizens from working for the federal governmentThis means that Dreamers can’t work on Capitol Hill.

A bill that could potentially cut out thousands of hours of work for staff,which equates to millions of dollars in savings, has stalled just prior to passing the House earlier this month. H.R. 736, the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (ACMRA) would publish all agency reports to Congress in one place, subject to reasonable restrictions.

The GOP is trying to override Democratic resistance to Trump nominees in the Senate by changing filibuster rules. By decreasing post-cloture debate times, lawmakers will have less power to delay the otherwise foregone, party-line confirmation process.

QUICK HITS

Tech round-up. 

18F is 5-years old: the office transformed how the federal government manages IT. Last week GSA moved away from DUNS numbers to another system to track corporate entities, freeing itself of an incredibly burdensome restriction on data sharing. The Congress.gov browser extension has been updated, learn more about the features here.

Don’t have a cow, man. Rep. Devin Nunes is suing Twitter for $250 million for “shadowbanning” conservative voices on the platform and for defamation, naming the account “Devin Nunes’ cow” amongst the bovine conspirators aiming to defame Nunes. Twitter followers by the numbers: The Cow: 633k; Nunes: 403k.

Sen. Gillibrand’s deputy chief of staff, who helped lead the investigation of a staffer’s sexual harassment complaint that garnered attention for being mishandled, will leave the office next month.

White supremacist Steve King is confident red states, with their “8 trillion bullets” would beat liberals in a civil war.

American University is awarding the first Madison Prize, which recognizes a member of Congress from each party who has demonstrated institution building qualities, on April 10th to Sens. Alexander and Murray.

GPO Acting Deputy Director, Herbert Jackson Jr., will retire March 31st. The agency has been without a permanent director for a while.

I TOLD YOU SO.

I don’t really want to spend much time talking about the Mueller report in this week’s edition, mostly because the news is changing rapidly and early reports are often unreliable. But there’s two things to keep in mind.

First, an investigation by a special counsel is not the same as a Congressional investigation. A special counsel looks for criminal wrongdoing that is prosecutable. A congressional committee can look at the systematic failings of political systems. In addition, Congress can impeach elected officials. Furthermore, the DOJ has opined that a sitting president is prosecutable, which may limit the scope of inquiry by a special prosecutor.

Second, providing members of Congress with staffers with clearance is essential for them to do their jobs. The limitation of high clearance (TS/SCI) to a select few committee staff means that members of many committees, especially in the House, are totally reliant on what they are told by staff hired and fired by the Committee chair and ranking member. Each member should have someone who works for them who can assist them and is loyal to them.

Finally, Congress can release any document in its possession, classified or not.