ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMIN (FRANKLINS): Last week the House approved H. Res 245, which contains House Admin’s recommendations on how to allot funds amongst all the committees (except approps, which is funded separately). The upshot: flat funding for everyone, and a smaller-than-expected amount for the Fix Congress Committee. We break down the numbers and analyze them here. With an unusually large $8m reserve fund, Chairman Lofgren said she’d to work with RM Davis to reach agreement on where the money should go
How big a pie? While House Admin is dividing up what the committees will get, Demand Progress and the Lincoln Network coordinated a letter from nearly fifty civil society organizations and former members of Congress calling on appropriators in the House and Senate to increase the allocation of funds to the legislative branch appropriations subcommittee. These 302b allocations determine how much money is available to each appropriations cardinal; leg branch gets the tiniest percentage of funding and has huge, unavoidable funding challenges ahead.
Speaking of fixing Congress, the Congressional Modernization Committee held its second hearing last week, where congressional experts presented on Congress’s past reform efforts. The meeting was a rare instance on Capitol Hill where it felt like everyone was on the same team trying to solve the same problem. The hearing offered up suggestions for a path forward, some of our picks include:
— Removing fundraising requirements for leadership positions so lawmakers can legislate. Members shouldn’t be ‘paying for the privilege’ of serving as a committee chair, which R Street’s Marian Currinder pointed out in a letter to the committee.
Several appropriations hearings happened last week: the House FSGG subcommittee heard from OMB in addition to public witness and member testimony. House CJS subcommittee had a member day hearing, and S. Leg Branch approps had an oversight hearing.
At the S. Leg Branch hearing, appropriators had questions for the Architect of the Capitol and the Library of Congress about the status of projects mandated in last year’s appropriations cycle:
— The Senate has 68 child care spots, only 9 of which are for infants. Senator Murphy pointed out, “no [private sector] business with the number of employees we have here would have such a small child care capacity.” Last year, Leg Branch directed the Architect to work with GAO to review options for expanding Senate daycare; last week Acting Architect Merdon told the committee they’re in the process of finding a contractor who will then conduct the study and hopefully deliver it late spring. I hope it’s not too cute to say this is moving forward at a crawl; we reported on inadequate congressional day care last October.
— CRS Reports were supposed to be published online by September 2018. At the hearing, Librarian of Congress Hayden told appropriators that CRS has been meeting congressionally mandated benchmarks. The FY 2018 approps law required all non-confidential CRS reports to be online last September, which instead is when CRS turned on its website. Appropriators extended the deadline: as of the end of last week CRS is expected to have posted all R series reports on its website (those available on crs.gov in 2018); and by the end of September, CRS is expected to post all its remaining non-confidential reports (those available on crs.gov in 2018). Read CRS’s implementation plan and our concerns with it.
— Chairwoman Hyde-Smith asked about the Library’s IT modernization efforts. Dr. Hayden’s reply centered on a GAO report critical of the Library’s IT practices. For more information on how the Library plans on spending appropriated funds, check out their 2020 Budget Justification; the 2019 version of the document is still unavailable.
This week, the House legislative branch appropriations subcommittee has member day testimony tomorrow at 1 as well as public witness testimony tomorrow at 1:30. If you can, watch the leg branch public witness testimony — live stream here — as there will be lots of good ideas on improving Congressional capacity.
What’s on tap before leg branch approps? The American Association of Law Libraries will ask for full funding for the Library and GPO; the Lincoln Network’s Zach Graves will address developing a science and technology assessment capacity in Congress; I’ll be talking technology policy, with a focus on expanding the bulk data task force and creating an advisory committee for the Library of Congress; GAP’s Samantha Feinstein will discuss funding for the Whistleblower Ombudsman; POGO’s Becca Jones will recommend making the House IG and US Capitol Police IG’s reports publicly available; the Internet Education Foundation’s Joe Alessi will address funding for the Congressional App Challenge; National Security Counselors’ Kel McClanahan will cover empowering the GAO’s oversight of the intelligence community; and POGO’s Mandy Smithberger will address providing top clearances to key staff that assist members in overseeing national security matters.
Also this week, S. leg branch will hear from the Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Police on Wednesday at 3. Speaking of the US Capitol Police, the department arrested seven individuals during the week ending March 26th. Charges included traffic infractions, marijuana possession, and disrupting Congress (a Senate hearing in Dirksen). We are still waiting on documents we’ve requested from them.
Are you submitting approps testimony in the House? Check out our approps testimony schedule.
— Member day written testimony in the House is due tomorrow for Legislative Branch and Friday for Homeland Security.
— Public witness written testimony in the House is due Thursday for CJS and Friday for Agriculture.
CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT: What’s up with the vacant watchdog posts?
Last week the House oversight committee voted to require the president to report to Congress on any IG posts left vacant for more than 210 days. The bill, HR 1847, the 2019 Inspector General Protection Act, was favorably reported and sent to the House floor.
A bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators requested a comprehensive GAO review of agency FOIA compliance. The strong, bipartisan request from Sens. Leahy, Grassley, Feinstein, Cornyn and Reps. Cummings and Jordan (aka the League of FOIA Champions) has 8 questions, multiple subparts, and would be tremendously informative. There’s enough committee chairs and RMs that GAO likely will undertake the review. (Psst, happy birthday to Senator Leahy — notice how you never see him and Batman in the same room?)
FSGG Subcommittee Chairman Quigley raised concerns “about the general lack of transparency and responsiveness from this administration on ethical and budgetary issues” during an OMB hearing last week. Not helping with the agency’s reputation? When Rep. Quigley asked about OMB’s compliance with record keeping laws, Acting Director Vought just answered that he couldn’t speak to whether the agency was in compliance. Rep. Quigley put it well when he replied “If you can’t speak to it, with all due respect, who can?”
Improving federal government operations was the subject of several public witness statements this past week before H. FSGG. We testified on the lack of availability of Congressional Budget Justifications across the government. Kel McClanahan of National Security Counselors testified on strengthening GAO’s ability to get answers out of the Intelligence agencies and stopping agencies expansive use of in camera FOIA declarations. Sean Moulton of POGO testified on improving the quality of information reported under the DATA Act and providing greater Inspector General transparency, with a focus on supporting Oversight.gov and making sure all report titles are listed on that website.
PROCESS OR POLITICS? House Republicans are starting to use a procedural tool
to score political points. Discharge petitions, which are usually filed by the minority, can bring a measure up for a vote whether leadership approves or not if the petition has 218 or more signatures.
Gotcha? Progressive organizations urged Democratic lawmakers not to vote for Republican motions to recommit (MTR) when the chamber votes on a resolution to end US support to the Saudi coalition in Yemen. MTRs are usually a means for the minority to make a statement on an issue and are voted down by the majority, but, as many members mentioned at the Fix Congress committee’s member day hearing, this Congress they’ve been more effectively used as ‘gotchas’ as a few Dems have been peeled away.
What’s the cost of speeding up Senate confirmations of presidential nominees? For one, Senate leadership could silence rank and file members, according to James Wallner. A proposed rule change that would limit debate time on presidential nominees to fast forward the confirmation process would allow majority and minority leaders to choose which senators get to speak on the floor in certain circumstances. This takes power away from the rank and file.
— The alternative methods aren’t much better: one is invoking cloture with less than 67 votes which would make the process even more partisan than it already is, and the other option is utilizing points of order during post-cloture consideration.
The DOJ may have narrowed a FARA provision in a non-public opinion concerning the lobbyist exemption. Previously, individuals who qualified as “foreign agents” didn’t need to register if the foreign entity wasn’t the primary beneficiary of their lobbying work. Now if a foreign entity benefits from the lobbyist’s work they must register as a foreign agent. We and POGO have some additional recommendations for fixing FARA.
Let’s not declare victory and call it a day quite yet though:
— Former FBI Director Louis Freeh and former House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce registered to lobby for KGL Investment Company and KGL Logistics, which lists an address in Kuwait.
— Shortly after striking a deal to have felony corruption charges against him dismissed, former Rep. Schock visited the House floor to speak with former colleagues. This is a clear example of why the Ethics committee should be able to complete investigations even if a member leaves Congress just prior to the completion of an investigation, especially when it’s apparently part of an effort to forestall a report’s release. When members apparently break the rules — such as when the Ethics Committee concludes there’s sufficient information for an investigation — there should be consequences, even if it’s just limiting access to the House floor and facilities. BTW if you feel like you’ve heard this point before, you have: in our rules recommendations and in Rep. Underwood’s testimony before the ‘Fix Congress’ committee.
IN TECH NEWS: Washington lost respected Pentagon expert and “long-range thinker”
Andrew Marshall at the age of 97 last week. Marshall, who directed the Office of Net Assessment, shaped military doctrine through his reports, where he provided foresight on military challenges. Couldn’t the Congress benefit from similar big picture thinking? The Office of Technology Assessment could bring the same kind of foresight and strategic thinking to the legislative branch around science and technology issues — as it did from the 1970s to 1990s.
Rep. Hoyer announced the new and improved Whip Watch App (now called the Dome Watch App). Completely rebuilt using an open platform, the app has floor updates, job openings, custom notifications, and the House calendar all in one place. Plus live vote information is more accurate and it has real time HD video of the floor whenever the House is in session.
The AOC also has vote notifications on the brain: the agency put in a work order to update the legislative call system (the clocks with lights and buzzers installed in Capitol Hill offices).
Republicans are calling for Rep. Schiff to resign from HPSCI concerning his statements on collusion, even before anyone in Congress has seen the Mueller report. So let’s say this again: the Mueller investigation isn’t the same as a Congressional investigation, which would be broader and would look at systemic issues. HPSCI, which has flouted House rules on transparency, probably isn’t the right place for an investigation to take place, especially so long as committee members don’t have their own staff with top clearances. We’re not prudish, having called for Nunes to step down last Congress, but Congressional oversight of the intelligence community is dysfunctional, which is why we and a coalition issued these broad bipartisan reform recs to fix it.
Are House Dems freezing out Republican bill co-sponsors? This is a question Politico deemed worth reporting without doing its own analysis. Contra their story, within the first few weeks of the 116th Congress there were a number of transparency bills (with Republican sponsors) that passed the House. Examples include the Presidential Libraries Donation Reform Act (Rep. Meadows), the GREAT Act (Rep. Foxx), and the Federal CIO Authorization Act (Rep. Hurd). The folks at Politico have the data, so they should analyze whether the number of minority bills that make it to the floor has changed. I don’t think anyone would be shocked, but why speculate?
Watchdog journalists at Sludge did a Reddit AMA on financial and stock investments for all members of the House of Representatives. Don’t miss Luke Rosiak’s exposition in the Daily Caller of how Congress protects its own.
The Trump administration authorized nuclear energy companies to share technological information with Saudi Arabia, but refused to tell Congress.
The Army waived its $300,000 FOIA fee for water testing results at military installations; there’s little doubt the fee was intended as punitive and not in good faith.
Senators want help securing the personal phones of members and staff.
House Democrats are unlikely to advance a full budget resolution this year and may not mark up a budget resolution in committee. Republicans have been quick to criticize. Dems don’t want to risk breaking party unity with a fight over the resolution, highlighting yet again the broken nature of the budget process.
The Ford Foundation is hiring a program officer to help manage their Civic Engagement and Governance portfolio.
Mea culpa. Last week we forgot the word “not,” as in the DOJ’s OLC does NOT think a sitting president can be indicted.