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.
H. LEG BRANCH APPROPS
We’ve put together a primer on funding levels for the legislative branch, which we call the Undermining of Congress. The upshot: funding over the last quarter century for the legislative branch has increased at half the rate (+27%) as overall non-defense discretionary spending (+58%). The vast majority of the increase in leg branch funding has gone to the US Capitol Police (+292%) and the Architect of the Capitol (383%). Notably, over the last decade, funding is down for personal offices (House at -15%, Senate at -8%) and committee offices (both down -35%). This chart tells the tale.
House Leg Branch Approps held its first round of hearings this past week, with testimony by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, the Open World Leadership Center, the Congressional Budget Office and the US Capitol Police.
Need a primer on the Leg Branch Approps process? CRS has a FAQ.
The U.S. Capitol Police threatened to eat the leg branch’s budget with a blockbuster request for an additional $56m in funding, an 11% increase over last year that would put them at $516.7 million. USCP already receives nearly 10% of the entire leg branch budget — this would push them up a percentage point — and it is one of only two leg branch entities that have seen significant sustained year-over-year increases for decades. Chief Sund said that $32m of that are “unanticipated mandatory costs.” Just meeting the mandatory costs would eat up all of the expected increased 302b allocation for the leg branch, creating a circumstance where budget levels are flat at best. (See our new report on the USCP).
CBO Director Dr. Phillip Swagel asked for a $2.4m increase (+4.3%) to CBO’s $54.9m budget to help bolster personnel capacity, responsiveness, and transparency at CBO, with 91% of that request used for personnel costs. This would support 750 formal cost estimates, 130 scorekeeping reports, 70 analytic reports and papers, and thousands of requests for technical assistance. In response to questions, Swagel noted that healthcare and energy policy take up the majority of staff time and also that better child care and benefits are two ways that could encourage staff to stay longer. 93% of cost estimates from CBO are provided before the bill gets to the floor. (Also notable: Rep. Herrera Buetler’s son gaveled in the meeting.)
New hearings for House Leg Branch Approps have been announced, with the current schedule as follows:
• Library of Congress (Thursday, February 27 at 1pm)
• GAO (Thursday, February 27 at 2pm)
• House Officers (Tuesday, March 3 at 1pm)
• Member Witnesses (Wednesday, March 4 at 1pm)
• Public Witnesses (Wednesday, March 4 at 2pm) (more)
• GPO (Thursday, March 5 at 11 am)
• AOC (Thursday, March 5 at 10am)
Other hearings this past week.
• We haven’t yet had a chance to watch the testimony of the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, the former Office of Compliance that was significantly altered in light of disclosure of millions of dollars paid to settle sexual harassment (and other) complaints from 1997-2017 and oversaw a process that many viewed as unfair to victims. The OCWR is requesting a $1,167,330 (+18%) increase to its $6.3 million budget. OCWR is currently conducting its first biennial congress-wide workplace climate survey. Notable from last year’s hearing was the very high usage of its services by Library of Congress employees; the office says it has addressed serious cybersecurity issues raised by Sen. Wyden.
• The Open World Leadership Center also testified, although it’s not clear from their written testimony what funding level they are requesting — last year’s funding was under $6m. This legislative branch entity manages an exchange program between the U.S. Congress and (mostly) parliaments in the former Soviet Union’s sphere of influence to “introduc[e] emerging leaders to their professional colleagues and thematic best practices throughout the United States.” It was clear that the OWLC must seek outside funding to sustain its work — maybe a foundation or benefactor will emerge.
You’re probably wondering “what ever happened to all the requirements put into last year’s leg branch approps bill?” Me too. We’ve tracked every report and requirement placed on all the legislative support offices and agencies, and wrote about them here. You can download the spreadsheet and sort by due date.
The Library of Congress received a $10m gift to build an “orientation” center — to tell the story of the Library, plus a snack bar— part of the estimated $60m (plus) cost, and publicly unveiled the donation in time for this year’s approps oversight hearing. Last year the Library received a drubbing from appropriators, who noted the Library had not leveraged Congress’s significant financial investment to find outside funders; an additional $10m of outside funding is still needed. The donor, David Rubenstein, is chairman of the Library’s Madison Council Board, and is a co-founder and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group. For more on private donations, look at the Madison Council (member list) and the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board.
GAO shouldn’t be a casualty of impeachment, argues the Lincoln Network’s Zach Graves and Nilmini Rubin of Fix the System. They argue “GAO generally pursues its oversight work consistently during Democratic and Republican administrations” and its “nonpartisan and consistent approach to federal oversight yields significant taxpayer saving.”
WAR POWERS + CONGRESSIONAL SUPREMACY
The Senate voted to assert Congress’s role concerning when the president can take military action against Iran. The bipartisan resolution, S.J. Res. 68, passed 55-45. While 8 GOP Senators voted yes on the final passage, the vote was short of the veto-proof majority. For more, CRS explains War Powers resolutions.
More funds for the border wall? On Thursday, the Pentagon notified Congress that it is taking additional $3.8 billion in funds from the National Guard, weapons programs, and others to further the construction of the southern border wall. These additional funds bring the total to nearly $10 billion since last year to pay for the wall. House Ranking Member Rep. Mac Thornberry of House Armed Service called on Congress to take action against the administration due to its contrary nature to Congress’ constitutional appropriations authority.
LET CONGRESS BE CONGRESS
How will the House majority spend the rest of the year? House Dem leadership said last week that they do not plan to release a budget resolution this year and will instead focus on program funding through the 12 annual bills in the approps process.
The DC statehood bill will get a House floor vote. The House Oversight Committee voted the bill out of committee on a 21-16 party-line vote. H.R. 51, championed by DC Delegate Nortion-Holmes, has 223 co-sponsors. It’s the first time since 1993 that DC statehood will be voted on the House floor, and this time it will pass. Majority Leader Hoyer, who now supports statehood, said the vote will come before the summer, but the effort likely will stall in the Senate. McConnell said he opposes DC statehood because “the move would probably add 2 Democratic senators, strengthening their power.” I wonder how he feels about voter ID laws. Oh.
Subpoena power for Grijalva. House Natural Resources voted 21-15 to give its chair authority to subpoena officials under its jurisdiction, Roll Call reported. Committee Republicans will be notified when a subpoena is issued.
OGIS published a report based on agency self-assessments. Two areas for additional review were raised in the report: (1) Agency employee performance work plans and appraisals generally do not include FOIA performance measures for non-FOIA professionals; and (2) although agencies have procedures for preparing documents for posting on FOIA reading rooms, it is largely FOIA staff who are preparing documents for posting. It also seemed notable that only 2/3s of FOIA programs report to agency leadership at least quarterly.
Puerto Rico’s outgoing government passed a sham transparency law designed to undermine transparency.
After the firing of Lt. Col. Vindman on Friday by President Trump, Senate Minority Leader Schumer sent a letter last Monday to all 74 IGs to investigate the firing for whistleblower retaliation. Whistleblowers remain one of the most important defenses against corruption, fraud, and government waste. A recent study that analyzed over 2 million whistleblower report data provided by the world’s largest provider of whistleblower hotline systems found that secondhand whistleblower reports are almost 50% more likely to be substantiated.
Evidence keeps coming. The latest batch of unredacted emails show how OMB misled Congress on Ukraine.
The lack of capacity on science and tech in Congress could become a crisis if the Supreme Court alters Congress’ ability to delegate rulemaking to federal agencies. Martha Kinsella explains the history of the nondelegation doctrine and indications from the Court that question whether Congress can delegate “any meaningful policy role” to the Executive Branch.
ETHICS, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND MONEY IN POLITICS
Shift happens, for Dems. In a series of meetings over the past week, Speaker Pelosi told Dems it is time to shift focus from Ukraine and impeachment to countering Trump on the economy. (One wonders how.) In light of ongoing events, such as political interference with prosecutions at the Justice Department and the ongoing threats to our democracy, it is apparent (as we have said all along) that it was an error for House leadership to delay the start of impeachment proceedings, narrow its scope, and rush it through.
DOJ lawyers resign over Stone sentence reduction. On Tuesday, the DOJ announced that it was reducing Roger Stone’s prison sentence, coincidentally (?) after President Trump tweeted that his sentence was unfair. The president then congratulated AG Barr for intervening. Later that day, all four lawyers working on the case for the DOJ resigned.
Hours after the DOJ lawyers quit the Stone case, President Trump withdrew his nomination of Jessie Liu to serve as the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes. Liu headed the US attorney office that supervised the prosecution and conviction of Roger Stone. Liu then resigned from the Treasury Dept. on Thursday.
US prosecutors are worried about the potential impact of political interference on judges and juries. This goes far beyond the Stone case. “In the past two weeks, the Justice Department has twice ordered US attorney’s offices around the country to participate in what some of them perceive as politically charged actions, according to people familiar with the matter.”
AG Barr will testify. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee announced that AG William Barr will testify on March 31 to address numerous concerns regarding his leadership at DOJ and the improper influence of Trump over the department. This is Barr’s first congressional appearance since his Senate confirmation and his testimony will come shortly after the release of John Bolton’s book. More than 2,000 former DOJ employees are calling for Barr to resign, and the Federal Judges Association has called an emergency meeting regarding Trump’s potential intervention in politically sensitive cases.
ODDS & ENDS
10 individuals were arrested in the Rotunda of the Capitol on Wednesday, February 5th around 2pm. Don’t forget to check out this week’s USCP Capitol Police Roundup.
GOP picks Jordan and Meadows to head key committees. On Tuesday, the House GOP approved OH Rep. Jordan to be the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee while NC Rep. Meadows, who is retiring, will serve as ranking member on the Oversight Committee.
Top GOP Senate Aid Retires. Laura Dove, Secretary for the Majority and a top GOP staffer plans to retire after 30 years. Dove has been critical to Majority Leader McConnell, the GOP conference, and the operations of the Senate.
Stewart next to head DNI? The WH is mulling UT GOP Rep. Chris Stewart, a key Member of the (dysfunctional) House Intel Cmte, to be the next head of DNI. The acting DNI Director, Joseph Maguire, is stepping down next month.
Congratulations to the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, which won a Le Hackie award from DC Legal Hackers as organization of the year, and welcome to the winners circle.
Both the House and Senate are in recess this week.
Down the line
• “2020 Better Budget Process Summit: Building Momentum for Meaningful Reform,” Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, February 25. RSVP here.
Lots of Approps hearings, including:
• H. Approps – Subcommittee on the Department of Homeland Security has its “Member Day” hearing on Wednesday, February 26 at 2:30 pm in Rayburn.
• H. Approps – Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs is holding its “Member Day” hearing on Thursday, February 27 at 2 pm in HT-2
• H. Approps – Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies has its “Member Day” on Tuesday, March 3 at 10 am in 2362-A Rayburn.
• H. Approps – Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies hosts its “Member Day” hearing on Wednesday, March 4 at 1:45 pm in H-309 Capitol
• H. Approps – Subcommittee on Legislative Branch will hold its “Public Witnesses testifying on FY21 Budget” hearing on Wednesday, March 4 at 2 pm in HT-2 Capitol
• H. Approps – Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs will hold its “Public Witness Day” hearing on Thursday, March 12 on 8:30 am
• H. Approps – Subcommittee on Defense is holding its “Member Day” hearing on Thursday, March 12 at 9 am in H-140 Capitol
• H. Approps – Subcommittee on the Departments of Transportation, and House and Urban Development, and Related Agencies is holding its “Member Day” hearing on Tuesday, March 24 at 10:30 am on 2358-A Rayburn.