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.

POWER OF THE PURSE

The House Budget committee will not be considering a FY 2021 budget resolution; don’t fret, top line numbers have already been set. Our focus: how that money will be divided up between the 12 appropriations subcommittees?

Earmarks: are they coming back? Last week Senator Shelby said no, now it’s ‘maybe’; meanwhile House Dems say not this Congress.

CBO took important steps to increase transparency, adopting several civil society recommendations like uniform URLs to make it easier to find the score for a particular bill and publishing instructions for viewing advisers’ conflict of interest disclosure forms. We hope those forms will eventually be published online and CBO’s ability to access quality data will be improved.

LET BE CONGRESS BE CONGRESS

The Fix Congress Committee held a hearing on deliberative processes in Congress. The discussion centered on debate structure and procedural tools as well as how to foster better relationships among Members and staff, perhaps through off-site retreats and team workshops.

  • Specific suggestions for improving the quality of Congressional debate included moving to 30-minute rounds of questioning during committee hearings (to allow for deeper discussion), changing the hearing format to a roundtable style, and starting weekly, nationally televised, Oxford-style debates.
  • The Motion to Recommit, which has come up at several other Modernization hearings, was discussed at length. In theory the MTR grants some procedural power to the minority, but in recent practice, it has been used as a messaging tool to score political points.

The Senate did not vote to convict President Trump; notably, Mitt Romney voted to convict. A note to journos: when you write “Romney broke with his party,” you are centering (and elevating) party polarization over other perspectives, such as Romney standing for executive accountability to the legislative branch. (But at least Trump learned his lesson.)

Whistleblowers may be less quick to speak up knowing reprisal from senior government officials is a real possibility. For example, Senator Rand Paul potentially outed the Ukraine whistleblower on the Senate floor and the White House removed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his brother from their jobs.

Senators may vote on a resolution to reassert Congressional authority over acts of war this week.

TRANSPARENCY

An OPM memo designated CBP as a security agency, which would exempt the agency from some FOIA and other transparency requirements.

DOJ’s Office of Information Policy, which manages the agency’s FOIA responsibilities, now has a permanent director, Bobby Talebian.

The National Archives doesn’t have space for more paper records and wants agencies to only send digital docs moving forward. The current situation creates wiggle room for agencies to edit their own history and destroy documents.

GSA is modernizing federal rulemaking and wants your feedback. Proposals are due midnight March 2nd for the March 25th meeting.

OVERSIGHT

Senator Murphy asked the GAO to review whether the Trump administration is improperly classifying documents that it provided to Congress.

An IG review of child care centers in federal buildings found that there are significant security vulnerabilities because the government isn’t complying with its own safety standards. The report does not name which centers were audited. As a reminder there are at least 4 child care centers for Legislative Branch employees, some of which are known for lengthy waitlists.

Congress is supposed to authorize all federal programs but a CBO report shows that a bunch of those authorizations have expired or will expire this year.

TECH CAPACITY
The real story from this year’s SOTU: the House conducted “a massive revamp of internet infrastructure” in the chamber and press galleries to prep for Tuesday’s speech. The Senate, on the other hand, stepped up its enforcement of the ban on electronics in the Chamber.
NYU launched CrowdLaw for Congress, an online course and resource kit meant to facilitate bringing 21st century lawmaking techniques to legislatures.

ETHICS & MONEY IN POLITICS

Lobbyists working for foreign governments are required to register as foreign agents with the DOJ under FARA. Weak enforcement of the law plus loopholes in the language have minimized accountability historically. Bills have been introduced in the House (by Rep. Seth Moulton) and the Senate (by Sen. Chuck Grassley) to fortify FARA. DOJ has requested to keep its FARA forms as they are, but there’s an opportunity to comment if you think they should be modernized.

After Speaker Pelosi ripped up a ceremonial copy of the president’s SOTU speech, Rep. Matt Gaetz filed an ethics complaint, saying she violated the House Code of Conduct and potentially the law, and Rep. Kay Granger forced a vote on a resolution to censure the Speaker. A photocopy of the speech is not an official record, per experts. But if congress is concerned about the destruction of documents, they should look to Trump’s practice of ripping up presidential documents, which is unlawful and is requiring staff to tape them back together.

ODDS & ENDS

Rep. Jim Jordan will take over as Ranking Member of House Judiciary and Rep. Mark Meadows will take over Jordan’s spot leading the minority on House Oversight.

Rep. Adam Schiff has been receiving threats: Capitol Police investigated a suspicious substance outside his office and an Arizona man is going to trial for threatening the Congressman over the phone.

Almost 40 people were arrested just outside the Capitol Building by U.S. Capitol Police on Wednesday, February 6th. Overall, arrests were up in the most recent Capitol Police weekly summary.

Congrats to Casey Burgat on his new position with the George Washington University!

EVENTS

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday