Forecast for June 3, 2019. Mission Accomplished

Congress is in session for the next 4 weeks. Here’s what you need to know:

Are you a new reader of the First Branch Forecast? Subscribe here and catch up on past issues.

 

RIDDLE ME THIS AND RIDDLE ME THAT

The Senate SAA just posted a request for proposal for a staff compensation study, as was required in the FY 2019 S. Leg Branch Approps committee report (p. 22). The study will review the range of pay and benefits for staff in personal offices and committees, how they compare against one another, and how they compare against the executive branch and the private sector.

This is a big deal. Staff are the backbone of congressional operations. It’s no secret that staff capacity is in decline, but even with excellent reports like the Casey Burgat’s Who’s on the Hill, nothing has more credibility (and direct access to data) than a study commissioned by the Congress.

Timeline? According to the RFP, the contractor must give the final report to the Secretary of the Senate no later than January 2020. Based on committee report language, the review must be started or contracted out by September 21, 2010, and released by March 21, 2020.

Senate Leg Branch appropriators should be cheered for requiring this study, the first one of its kind in the Senate since 2006 (with prior studies in 2001, 1999, 1997, 1995, 1993, 1991, and 1988). The original language included a study on gender, race, and ethnicity, but Senate leadership stripped it even though it passed the subcommittee. Here is our testimony requesting the Senate undertake the study.

The House will also conduct a staff compensation survey in the upcoming year. The House’s study will parallel the Senate’s but it will also look at whether staff earn equal pay for equal work, including a breakdown on gender and racial/ethnicity lines. (The last time the House conducted a public study on this was in 2010.) You can read the language on p. 5-6 for the FY 2019 H. Leg Branch approps report. Here’s our testimony requesting the study.

We might have missed the House’s RFP, nevertheless the House’s study is due before the Senate’s study, by September 21, 2019.

If you want to analyze historical data, as part of my 2010 and 2012 reports on House and Senate staff pay and retention — and a report comparing them against each other and the executive branch — I gathered all the data from the mid-80s forward. This information was initially gathered and published by the Congressional Management Foundation under contracts with the House and Senate. I published all that older data as spreadsheets that you can download for the House and Senate.

CRS has done some work in this area, too. Here’s the most recent reports I could find, thanks to everycrsreport.com. Tenure: Senate CommitteesHouse CommitteesSenate Personal OfficesHouse Personal Offices. Compensation: Senate CommitteesHouse CommitteesSenate Personal OfficesHouse Personal Offices. Staff levels in personal, committee, leadership, and other offices in the House and in the Senate.

We don’t yet know about the Senate, but the House FY 2020 Leg Branch approps bill (as passed by the full committee) contains report language (p. 10) to study how to provide personal and committee staff information on an annual basis “through approaches such as possible use of payroll data and/or information collected during the employee onboarding process or recurring surveys of samples of employees or offices.” The CAO must provide a report on its recommendations.

 

MUELLER OUT

Mueller issued his report, gave a press conference, and quit. In doing so, he declined to weigh in on whether Trump committed a crime because of his reading of an OLC opinion and the unfairness to Trump of accusing him of a crime without a legal process to vindicate himself. I swear, I’m not making this up.

This is why Congress should have started investigating immediately and not deferred to Mueller. Putting aside the narrowness of Mueller’s inquiry as compared to the issues before Congress, this whole thing has bent around the axle because of Mueller’s idiosyncratic interpretation of an OLC interpretation of the Constitution — and the OLC interpretation itself is biased towards protecting the president. (If Mueller had to defer to OLC, why not ask it for a clarification? Arguable, that’s OLC’s job.)

Mueller’s bizarro world logic. Prosecutors indict people all the time, including piling on charges as leverage to force a plea deal. They’re not worried about reputational damage: they do “perp walks” as a form of public shaming of people who’ve only been arrested. It’s the grand jury deliberations (i.e. the Mueller report) that are kept secret, not their conclusion (i.e. indictment). Mueller has it backwards. If Trump weren’t powerful, would he be treated this way?

Congress needs to get going. For reasons I cannot fathom, the House has decided to neither significantly increase funding for its committees, which are down $100m over the last decade, nor to start impeachment proceedings to determine what charges to bring. FWIW, Mueller may not want to testify, but if Congress initiated impeachment proceedings, he would become a possible witness.

On impeachment, Pelosi is doing real harm to Congress in waiting for the upcoming election. The House impeachment process serves in part as a tool that can break through the noise and educate people about Trump’s apparent wrongdoing and the role that Congress plays. Impeachment is the major remaining check available on a lawless president. And it is an opportunity for Congress to reassert its role in the constitutional balance of power. While Pelosi waits, who knows what harm will happen over the next 18 months? Politico describes Pelosi in Shakespearean terms, although I prefer the original Klingon: taH pagh taHbe.*

Her Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, is also stymieing the legislative process to consolidate his power. McConnell’s running a ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ game,’ the most recent example of this being his claim that he would fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020 (an election year).

 

OTHER OVERSIGHT NEWS

Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act (again) with comments about Joe Biden. Her response? “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work.”

When White House staff use encrypted auto-deleting messaging apps,does it violate the Presidential Records Act? In response to a CREW filed a lawsuit, DC District Courts held CREW failed to establish a right to relief.

Impeachment strengthens the House’s investigatory powers, according to former House Counsel Mike Stern in this Just Security blogpost.

 

ETHICS

Reports are criticizing Congress for not cracking down on the revolving doorand lawmakers are taking notice. Public Citizen found that 42 percent of House members and 50 percent of senators land jobs influence peddling after they leave Congress. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Sen. Ted Cruz (you read that right) are teaming up to put a stop to the practice, at least with respect to federally registered lobbyists, who are a small percentage of the influence industry.

Dialing for dollars keeps lawmakers from legislatingand some senators have had enough. Sen. Udall will not run for re-election in 2020 because, he says, he could do more for issues he cares about by skipping another two years of relentless re-election fund-raising.

Rep. Hunter said he killed hundreds of civilians in combat. Did he violate the law of war?

Sen. Mitch McConnell is an incidental subject of a NYT report focusing on his wife, Elaine Chao, and her ties to China through her family’s business. I found this notable: “In all, from 1989 through 2018, 13 members of the extended Chao family gave a combined $1.66 million to Republican candidates and committees, including $1.1 million to Mr. McConnell and political action committees tied to him, according to F.E.C. records.”

 

HONORING MEMBERS

The Congressional Management Foundation is honoring members of Congress with democracy awards for their work to improve transparency in government and innovation in operations. Among the winners are late Senators John McCain and John Dingell.

Former Senator Thad Cochran passed away last week.

 

CONGRESSIONAL OPS

What’s the Modernize Congress committee doing? Federal News Network has the rundown.

Congress is bad at tech but it doesn’t have to be: TechDirt talked to Lincoln Network & Demand Progress about bringing back the Office of Technology Assessment.

Want to be the digital innovation chief at the library of congress? They’re hiring, deadline is June 5th.

Leg Branch Industry Day: If you’re a contractor interested in doing business with Congress, come visit Congress on June 27.

The Semi-Annual Senate statement of expenditures for October 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019 is now available online. The Senate only publishes this document in PDF format, unlike the House, which also publishes its expenditures in a spreadsheet file. Why is that a problem?

While some debate whether Congress should offer paid parental leave, this CRS report discusses its availability from private and public employers.

The US Capitol Police has a new acting chief: Steven A. Sund. You wouldn’t know he’d been chosen if you read their press releases, however, as there’s no official announcement. Unrelated: read this week’s arrest summary.

 

QUICK HITS

On July 24th, House Oversight will hold the first hearing on DC statehood in more than 25 years. More than 200 members have co-sponsored DC statehood legislation.

Rep. Ocasio Cortez faces death threats that are escalated by hateful political rhetoric. She often starts her day by reviewing photos of the people who have threatened to kill her.

This Slate podcast interview with Buzzfeed’s Jason Leopold on investigative journalism and the power of FOIA is worth the listen.

CRS reports this week cover claims of immunity in Congressional Investigationsparliamentary reference sources, and unfunded mandates.

The provocateur behind the false inebriated Pelosi speech has been identified.