Capitol Police Round Up: Week Ending February 27, 2020

For the week ending February 27, 2020, there were 8 Capitol Police incidents reported; 17 individuals arrested. There were 6 traffic related incidents, including 3 invalid permit arrests. Capitol Police arrested 10 individuals for blocking vehicle and pedestrian traffic while chanting and holding signs near First Street, NE on Monday, February 24 around 10:30 am. 

Continue reading “Capitol Police Round Up: Week Ending February 27, 2020”

Staffers Form Bipartisan Association Aiming to Modernize Congress

A new staff association is looking at ways to reform the staff workplace from the inside. The Modernization Staff Association (MSA) is a bipartisan group of staffers whose goal is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Congressional staff by modernizing systems that affect their day-to-day operations. The association held its latest meeting last week, focusing on onboarding new members, defining their mission, and creating resources guides for staffers. Roughly 50 staffers attended the meeting. The association continues to grow, with a total of 82 members, all House staffers. According to MSA, they encourage Senate staffers to join as well. 

Continue reading “Staffers Form Bipartisan Association Aiming to Modernize Congress”

Forecast for February 25, 2020.

We’ve been busy writing reports and appropriations requests, so welcome to an abbreviated and belated First Branch Forecast.

IN BRIEF

House Rules are a way for lawmakers to set priorities & implement reforms. We tracked the status of reforms in the House Rules package: see the results.

Approps season is in full swing. Roll Call has a draft House markup schedule, and check out our approps tracker.

This week, the Library of Congress and GAO are testifying before H. Leg Branch Approps on Thursday; next week House Officers, Members, the public, the AOC, and GPO are all testifying. Mismanagement and discrimination at CRS was the topic of a House Admin hearing last year.

Remember that panel discussion on DOJ’s OLC opinions that we teased you about last week? Video is now available! (And here’s a 1-pager on a legislative fix.)

It appears the Acting DNI was removed for sharing information with Congress; the latest in a series of steps to turn off the information faucet from the Exec. Branch to Leg. Branch overseers.

GAO launched a new line of productsscience and tech spotlights.

ICYMI: Congress has systematically underfunded its own operations for decades. We have the charts to prove it.

VA Reporting Transparency Act, a bill requiring reports the VA must provide to Congress to be available on a central website, will get a House floor vote on Thursday.

Continue reading “Forecast for February 25, 2020.”

Capitol Police Round Up: Week Ending February 20, 2020

For the week ending February 20, 2020, there were 9 Capitol Police incidents reported; 9 individuals arrested. There were 4 traffic related incidents, including 3 invalid permit arrests. Capitol Police arrested ‘multiple’ individuals for crowding and obstructing Emancipation Hall of the Capitol Visitor Center on Monday, February 17th around 11 am. 

Here’s how this week’s activity was distributed:

Continue reading “Capitol Police Round Up: Week Ending February 20, 2020”

Reforms Included in the House Rules for the 116th Congress

At the beginning of each Congress, House lawmakers adopt rules that will govern the state of play for both sessions of that Congress. The rules of the House of Representatives are a chance for the majority to set priorities as well as implement operational and institutional reforms. 

We made a number of reform recommendations — see our report and draft legislative language — several of our favorites made it into the package. 

As we are well into the second session of the 116th Congress, we took inventory of standout reforms that made it into the rules package. Scroll down for a summary of where items stand this Congress.

Find the complete House Rules (with explanations) here, and the resolution that ratified the rules (H. Res. 6) here.

• • •

Continue reading “Reforms Included in the House Rules for the 116th Congress”

Forecast for February 18, 2020.

ON YOUR RADAR

A nice breather. Both the House and Senate are in recess this week.

Whistleblower Ombudsman. Congratulations to Shanna Devine, who was just named the House of Representatives’ first Whistleblower Ombudsman. The nonpartisan, independent office, established 14 months ago as part of the House rules package and filled this past week — with bipartisan support for the appointee — is responsible for providing training to congressional offices and helping them develop best practices for receiving communications from whistleblowers. At Congress’s request, GAO issued a report in May 2019 on key procedures congressional staff should follow to safeguard whistleblower information and identity, and now congressional staff will have someone to call. Perhaps the Senate will follow suit.

If you want to strengthen Congress’s policy chops, be sure to attend this briefing on strengthening Congressional formulation of science and technology policy this Friday from 12-1:30 in Rayburn 2044, featuring a new Ash Center report (one-pager) co-written by Zach Graves at the Lincoln Network and Daniel Schuman at Demand Progress. RSVP here.

The House released dates and times for many upcoming Approps hearings. More below, and see our approps tracker for when testimony is due.

The Office of Legal Counsel is an office inside the Department of Justice that churns out (sometimes secret) legal opinions that often elevate the presidency at the expense of Congress. This past week, the Congressional Transparency Caucus hosted a phenomenal panel discussion on the OLC that everyone should watch. (We’ll have video soon — honest!) Here’s a 1-pager on legislation to address congressional notification re: OLC opinions.

The House Democratic Caucus was asked, more than a year ago, to publish its rules online, just like the Republicans do. This week we re-upped our letters; we didn’t get a response from Rep. Jeffries, but Roll Call did: “Continuing our long-standing commitment to complete transparency, the Caucus is in the process of making its rules available online for all to see.” Roll Call notes the spokesperson did not respond to questions about a timeline.

Continue reading “Forecast for February 18, 2020.”

The Undermining of Congress

The Legislative branch plays a central role in our democracy, but for decades Congress has systematically underfunded congressional operations as compared to the rest of government.

The chart below shows discretionary non-defense discretionary spending from 1995-2020 (in constant dollars). During that quarter-century, non-defense discretionary spending increased by 58%, but spending for the legislative branch increased only by 27%.

Discretionary Appropriations Spending from 1995-2020
Percentage Change in Non-defense appropriations discretionary spending 1995-2020
Continue reading “The Undermining of Congress”

Capitol Police Round Up: Week Ending February 13, 2020

For the week ending February 13, 2020, there were 9 Capitol Police incidents reported; 18 individuals arrested. There were 2 traffic related incidents, including 1 invalid permit arrest. Capitol Police arrested 10 individuals for crowding and obstructing the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday, February 5th at 1:47 pm. 

Here’s how this week’s activity was distributed:

Continue reading “Capitol Police Round Up: Week Ending February 13, 2020”

Coalition Urges House Democratic Caucus to Publish Caucus Rules

Earlier today, a coalition of 15 organizations sent a letter requesting the House Democratic Caucus to publish its current set of Caucus rules. 

Similar letters were sent on January 31, 2019February 7, 2019, and April 10, 2019, requesting the Caucus to publish the rules online. The coalition received a response on February 7, 2019, saying that the issue would be brought up to the Caucus shortly. Unfortunately, no further action was taken by the Caucus. 

It has been one year since the Democratic Caucus informed the coalition that the matter would be brought to the Caucus’ attention. The letter once again requests that these rules be published online.

Read the full letter here

Forecast For February 10, 2020.

ON YOUR RADAR

Shedding light on the Justice Department’s OLC Opinions is the topic of today’s Transparency Caucus briefing, set for 2pm in 1310 Longworth. RSVP to Hannah.Mansbach@mail.house.gov. Here’s why we think OLC opinion transparency is important plus a refresher on legislative efforts concerning OLC opinions. Also, read Mike Stern’s latest on OLC.

Oversight hearings on Leg Branch agencies before House appropriators start this week. Tuesday’s hearings include the Open World Leadership Center at 10 and the US Capitol Police at 11; Wednesday it’s the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights at 10 and CBO at 11. Coincidentally, we have a new report out today on what a year’s worth of data tells us about the Capitol Police.

DIGGING INTO CONGRESS!

Ever wonder how congressional clearances work? We did, and spent several years (with the Project on Government Oversight) to write this new report. The upshot: as a consequence of overclassification and undue deference to the executive branch, Congress’s capacity to oversee classified matters has eroded, with access to information unduly limited to a smattering of staff in a handful of offices.

Congress isn’t subject to FOIA, but many of its offices and agencies have a public records request process. How does it work — and does it work well? Alex Howard took a close look: read his excellent article and look at our data that evaluates each agency and component.

The US Capitol Police is one of the least transparent and accountable legislative branch agencies, which we know because we spent a year looking deeply into their behavior. They have 10% of the legislative branch’s budget, a 2-square mile primary jurisdiction, and a staff the size of Atlanta’s police department (seriously!), but they disclose little information and are often non-responsive to questions. In addition, a non-trivial amount of their work is not closely tied to protecting the Capitol complex and its visitors.

What’s on the Leg Branch’s to-do list? We went through the FY 2020 approps bill and tracked every request and deadline related to congressional modernization. You’re welcome. 🙂

The Library of Congress is publishing some CRS reports, but they should do better: 25 organizations urged the Library to publish current CRS reports as HTML and release important archived reports. (By the way, we appreciate the Library fulfilling our public records request for CRS’s annual reports to Congress for 1981-1994; we made that request last August.)

Interested in Congress’s ability to formulate science and technology policy? You can read our new report, published by the Ash Center, but why not come to our Feb. 21st briefing in 2044 Rayburn? RSVP here.

Is there something we missed in this week’s forecast? Let us know — send us your articles, news, press releases, and angry tweets. Also, encourage your friends to subscribe.

Continue reading “Forecast For February 10, 2020.”