Congress has a security-force-police-department hybrid, the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP), tasked with the critical mission of protecting the Congress—Members, employees, and visitors—so constitutionally mandated business can be carried out in a safe and open environment. The department mitigates threats against Members of Congress, which the House Sergeant at Arms says have increased three-fold in recent years, with some cases resulting in criminal charges . Additionally, USCP evaluates millions of Capitol campus visitors each year, screening more than 10 million visitors in 2018 alone.
USCP absorbs almost 10% of Congress’ (already limited) funding, a percentage that has dramatically increased over the last decade. Does USCP use that money and manpower efficiently and effectively? The short answer is, we don’t know.
For the week ending February 6, 2020, there were 19 Capitol Police incidents reported; 58 individuals arrested. There were 5 traffic related incidents, including 4 invalid permit arrests. Capitol Police arrested 39 individuals for crowding and obstructing the entrance of the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday, January 29th at 2:06 pm.
Around the world, over one hundred nations have adopted freedom of information (FOI) laws that give their publics a right to request records from their governments. While these statutes are riddled with exemptions, marked by political interference, and often light on sanctions for those that block them, FOI laws remain essential tools for democratic governance everywhere they exist.
FOI laws have the greatest impact on transparency and accountability in states and nations where press freedom is strong and independent FOI ombudsmen and courts provide an adversarial venue where requesters can make appeals and challenge denials.
Sweden’s FOI law is the oldest in the world, passed in 1766. It wasn’t until July 4, 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson reluctantly signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) at his ranch in Texas, codifying into law the American public’s right to access information from government agencies in the executive branch.
During the Trump administration, the number of FOIA requests, FOIA lawsuits, and records censored have all reached record levels, driven from a combination of non-responsive agencies, reduced proactive disclosure, and active litigation by civil society groups.
On Halloween we posted a spooky story on the disappearance of CRS’s Annual Reports. The annual reports to Congress explain what the agency has been doing the past year — and what it plans to do — and, for our purposes, contain some useful statistical data that we want for a report we are writing on how usage of CRS’s services have changed over time. The reports contain other information, such the priorities for the components inside CRS, management’s focus, and a list of all CRS reports issued that year.
The thing is, we were able to find CRS’s Annual Reports from 1971-1980, and from 1995 to present, but a huge tranche of the reports were missing. The October blogpost details everywhere that we (unsuccessfully) looked, including our efforts to go through unofficial and semi-official channels to obtain copies. Finally, we submitted this public records request to the Library on August 8, 2019. This Friday would have marked six months since our request. (Six months for documents that likely were originally publicly available, at least at the time of submission!) Continue reading “Update on CRS Annual Reports”→
Security clearances govern access to classified information. While members of Congress are entitled to access classified information by virtue of the constitutional offices they hold and do not need security clearances, they must rely on their staff to sift through reams of information and brief them on issues. Those staff often do not hold sufficient clearances to access the requisite information, thereby undermining the support they can provide to their superiors and weakening Congress’s ability to legislate or conduct effective oversight.
This primer is a review, to the extent possible with the available information, of how the processes for staff clearance operate in the House of Representatives and Senate (though not in congressional support offices and agencies), who is able to obtain a clearance, and at what level a clearance can be obtained. It specifically focuses on “SCI,” or Sensitive Compartmented Information.
The passage of the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for FY 2020 back in December started the clock on a number of projects and reports inside the legislative branch. We took a look at the requests, broke them down by office, and summarized the deadlines, which are drawn from the House committee report, the Senate committee report, and the Joint Explanatory Statement.
Earlier today, letters signed by 25 organizations were sent to the Committee on House Administration and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration urging them to address issues of congressional and public access to CRS reports.
Previously, Congress directed the Library of Congress to public current and archived CRS reports, but many of these reports are not made available to the public are not made generally available to Congress unless specifically requested and are not available from either the Library’s internal website or from its public-facing website.
Memory Hole:The Library of Congress nixed, at the last minute, a “mural-size photograph of demonstrators at the 2017 Women’s March” — which would have been featured in a prominent exhibition on women obtaining the right to vote — because “of concerns it would be perceived as critical of President Trump,” i.e., what a library spokesperson cited as “vulgar language and political content.” (To wit, the right to vote is inherently political content and the march was prompted in part by “vulgar” language.) According to WaPo, Dr. Hayden supported the decision to exclude the photo.