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.

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New Committees and Offices

I. Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress

Title II of H. Res. 6 established the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (SCOMC). The Committee was directed to develop recommendations on:

  • Rules to promote a more modern and efficient Congress
  • Procedures, including the schedule and calendar
  • Policies to develop the next generation of leaders
  • Staff recruitment, diversity, retention, and compensation and benefits
  • Administrative efficiencies
  • Technology and innovation
  • The House Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards

The 12 Members of the bipartisan committee are appointed by the Speaker of the House and the House Minority Leader. The committee is required to include two freshmen Members, two Members of the Committee on Rules, and two Members of the Committee on House Administration. Committee recommendations require a two-thirds majority vote for approval, and therefore require bipartisan cooperation.

Status: The Committee was delayed in starting its work, with its organizational meeting not happening until March; the late start has not hampered the quality of the committee’s work. The SCOMC has issued an impressive 45 recommendations so far: 29 earlier in 2019, and an additional 16 before the holiday recess; many of the recommendations have been turned into legislation, co-sponsored by all 12 Members of the committee.

The committee was originally set to expire February 1, 2020, but the quality of the committee’s work has been recognized by leadership and House colleagues and, as a result, the committee’s charter was extended through the end of the 116th Congress

II. Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman

A change to the House Rules established a new Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman to help Congressional offices better receive communications from whistleblowers. 

The office was directed to teach House offices and employees about whistleblower laws and policies, as well as best practices for working with and protecting the identity of whistleblowers. 

The Ombudsman is appointed by the Speaker of the House in consultation with the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committee on House Administration.

Status: Appropriators set aside $750,000 for the House Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman in the Fiscal Year 2020 Legislative Branch spending bill. The Speaker appointed the inaugural Director, Shanna Devine, in February 2020, after bipartisan consultations. 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.

III. Office of Diversity and Inclusion

A change to the rules created a new Office of Diversity and Inclusion of the House of Representatives. The Office will create a diversity plan which will include recruiting and hiring policies to foster a diverse workforce, a survey to evaluate diversity in House offices, and a proposal for an Advisory Council that will work to inform the office. The Office will also submit a House diversity report to the Speaker, Majority and Minority Leaders, as well as the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Committee on House Administration and the Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee at the end of each session of Congress. 

It does not appear the diversity report has been directed to be publicly released.

The Office is led by the Diversity Director, who is chosen by the Speaker from a pool of nominees proposed by the Chair of the Committee on House Administration. Once a Director has been appointed, a series of timed deadlines are triggered: the Office has 60 days to submit a plan for operations (e.g. appointing and establishing duties for the staff), and 90 days (after the operations plan is submitted) to submit the diversity plan described above.

Status: Appropriators set aside $1,000,000 for the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion in the Fiscal Year 2020 Legislative Branch spending bill. The office has not officially announced, however the House Statement of Disbursements includes a Diversity Director, and it’s our understanding the office is ramping up, with an official announcement sometime in the future.

Ethics Rules & Procedural Changes

I. Ban on Corporate Board Positions

A rules change banned Members, Delegates, Resident Commissioners, officers, and employees of the House from sitting on the board of public companies. The change came shortly after (now) former Rep. Chris Collins was indicted for insider trading

Status: The Ethics committee formed a working group, which created regulations in consultation with Members and outside experts. The regulations, which were released a few weeks ahead of the December 31st deadline, prevent Members, Delegates, Resident Commissioners, as well as senior officers and employees from being paid to affiliate with or work for a corporation. The regulations also prohibit Members, Delegates and Resident Commissioners from being an officer or director of any entity that receives federal agency funds. The text of the regulations are here.

II. The 72 Hour Rule

The 72-hour rule requires that House bills (but not resolutions) must be published 72 hours in advance of a floor vote, except in special circumstances. The previous rule was a “three-day rule,” which, because of legislative interpretations, meant when a bill was published online it could be voted on the third legislative day, which could be as short as 24-hours later.

The Rules for the 116th Congress closed the loophole by changing the “three day” rule to a 72 hour rule.

III. Ban Sexual Relations Between Members And Committee Staff

Members are not permitted to have sex with anyone who works for them—see clause 18(a) of Rule XXIII. The recently-amended Congressional Accountability Act banned sex between Committee chairs and Committee staff. This new rule extends the ban to any Member who serves on a committee from having sex with any committee staff member.

IV. Members’ Financial Responsibility For Discrimination Settlements

House Rules now require Members to reimburse the U.S. Treasury when an employee accuses them of violating the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (CAA) and a settlement is paid out. This requirement was also included in the CAA Reform Act enacted in December 2018. The rule requires any settlement approved by the Chair and Ranking Member of the Committee on House Administration to include a provision stating the Member is required to reimburse the US Treasury for the amount of the settlement.

V. Indictment Rule

Members who have been indicted or formally charged with a felony that carries a potential sentence of two or more years in prison should (but are not required to) submit their resignation from any committee or subcommittee assignments, as well as any caucus or conference leadership positions. See Clause 10 of rule XXIII for more information

This rule was tested when former Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty to felony misuse of campaign funds, which carries potential punishment of 2+ years imprisonment. The Ethics Committee asked Hunter to please not cast any votes.

Written by Amelia Strauss