Forecast for March 2, 2020.

ON YOUR RADAR

Approps season is firing on all cylinders, with many Members schedules double- or triple-booked. It’s running us ragged, too. (At least we can help you keep track of testimony deadlines.) Maybe Congress should take a real look at fixing its hearing schedule? Anyway—

Leg Branch heard testimony from LOC and GAO this past week, and there’s news in a CBO QFR response. (More on that below.) Hearings this week include House Officers (Tuesday at 1), Members (Wednesday at 1), the public (Wednesday at 2), the AOC (Thursday at 10), and GPO (Thursday at 11). If you’re looking for good ideas to strengthen Congress, watch the public witness testimony on Wednesday and check out our detailed list of approps requests. It looks like Tuesday is going to be super.

This week is jam-packed with other notable hearings, including on—

• Reasserting Congressional Authority, H. Rules on Tuesday at 10

• GPO Oversight, H. Admin on Tuesday at 10

• Member Day testimony, H. FSGG Approps on Tuesday at 10

• Markup of the Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act (H.R. 4894) + more good government bills, H. Oversight on Wednesday at 10:30

• Making Federal IT a Priority, H. Oversight on Wednesday at 2

The Coronavirus supplemental is expected to top $7 billion. Considering how little trust there is on the administration’s handling of this issue, I wonder if it will prompt a reinvestment in Congress’s Science and Technology Policy capacity — whether in the STAA, a new OTA, or something else. As you know, we have recommendations. Also, how will the virus affect Congressional operations? What’s the plan for continuity of Congress?

The renewal of (bad) surveillance provisions under FISA hit a speedbump when Intel Committee Chair Adam Schiff threatened to torpedo a secretly-negotiated H Judiciary bill — which was published two days before the markup — when it became apparent that bipartisan amendments to strengthen civil liberties protections would be offered (and likely succeed) in a Judiciary Committee markup. The proceedings were indefinitely postponed. {{BOOM}} This dynamic — of Intel working to limit popular reforms likely to be adopted by the primary committee of jurisdiction, i.e. the Judiciary committee — has been going on for years and suggests structural problems with how the committee referral system provides undue veto power. (It also points to problems with how HPSCI is organized and run).

• The Senate is pushing a straight reauthorization of the failed CDR program, which is evidence of Congress’s unwillingness to legislate and conduct oversight over national security matters. After significant pushback, House Dems are now saying they’re unwilling to use the Coronavirus supplemental as a vehicle. Speaker Pelosi expects a vote on surveillance before March 12; the underlying legislation expires on March 15, after an extension was jammed through in a must-pass bill in December. (We have primers on section 215 here.) Notably, this issue separates Democratic leadership (which is pro-surveillance and had joined with the Republicans previously on an extension) from the vast majority of Democratic party members (who support civil liberties protections) and a few dozen Republicans.

Sunshine week, which focuses on open government and is centered around Madison’s birthday, is coming up quickly. We will be co-hosting an event on March 12 in the Capitol Visitor Center (info here); additional events are listed here and in the calendar section below.

LEG BRANCH APPROPS: Library of Congress

Last week, House Leg Branch Approps heard testimony from the Librarian of Congress.

Dr. Carla Hayden requested $830 million for the LOC, which represents a 7% increase from last year’s enacted number and includes $38 million in mandatory pay and price level increases.

• The high number of referrals of the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights was the only newsworthy issue raised in the oral testimony.

• The Library’s written testimony mentioned a desire to expand CRS’s science and tech capabilities and significant cybersecurity investments.

• CRS’s written testimony mentioned that LIS (the internal version of THOMAS) has finally been retired, briefly discussed the launch of a CRS research portal, and requested funding for 12 FTEs for science and tech work.

• We remain very curious about implementation of the Library’s technology projects. In addition, we note that there was no public discussion about the huge mismanagement problems at CRS, which were discussed in last year’s House Admin hearing. Specifically, huge turnover in their attorneys, the weakening of the utility of CRS’s products, and a lack of diversity in CRS’s management.

LEG BRANCH APPROPS: GAO

GAO’s Comptroller General Gene Dodaro requested $706 million for GAO, an increase of $76 million compared to last year’s enacted level. The funds will primarily go to supporting its 3,250 full-time employees, which includes 50 new staff to bolster its STAA and legal appropriations teams. GAO said that for every dollar invested in GAO this past year it returned $314 in savings. There was a lot from a congressional modernization perspective brought up at the hearing, which was cut short by votes.

• Impoundments. One of GAO’s more interesting responsibilities is to make legal assessments on whether executive branch agencies have violated the Antideficiency Act (i.e., have spent money in violation of federal law). Comptroller Dodaro said that, under prior administrations, OMB and agencies would respect and honor GAO’s decisions. Under this administration, however, OMB is telling agencies they don’t have to follow GAO’s direction unless OMB agrees with it. (Here’s the November 2019 OMB memo on this point.) GAO also says it needs more attorneys as the frequency of these kinds of questions has increased.

• GAO is having problems getting information and compliance from the executive branch, and has recommendations for Congress. (1) Add some disciplinary options for violations of appropriations provisions — such as by strengthening the “purpose statute,” the “bona fide need rule,” and others. (2) Extend GAO authorities beyond access to records to also encompass compelling testimony from agency staff, including (at times) under oath. (3) Congress should use its appropriations authorities to remedy executive branch ADA violations. (Apparently, there’s a memo that was provided to Appropriators and the Budget Committee on GAO’s needs.)

• Intelligence Oversight. In response to a question from Rep. Ed Case, Comptroller Dodaro said that GAO is still having difficulty getting the Intelligence Community to comply with its investigations — which was identified as an issue last year and the year before. Said Dodaro: “Congress could work with the Intelligence Committees to provide better direction to the intelligence agencies to cooperate with us.” Comptroller Dodaro will follow up with specific recommendations.

• Science and Technology Policy was the subject of several questions. Comptroller Dodaro emphasized that more resources are needed in this area, touted the work of the STAA, and cited last year’s NAPA study. He endorsed the idea that GAO be expanded and create a new office to help Congress absorb the info coming from GAO, the national academies, and others.

LEG BRANCH APPROPS: CBO

THE CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE was the subject of an oversight hearing two weeks ago, but the QFR’s from Appropriators and the H. Budget Committee have come in and they highlight that CBO sometimes has problems getting data from agencies. In summary, it can be challenging for CBO to prepare some costs estimates when legislation moves faster than data use agreements between CBO and an agency can be negotiated.

• Having a standard agreement might help CBO obtain information more quickly; a challenge arises from the fact that “the protocols that agencies follow to protect data from unauthorized disclosure change[s] with technology and the threat environment.” There are also instances where an agency stops producing data that CBO relies upon, such as when the agency has “updated its systems” or “streamlined its reports.”

• CBO also mentioned improving its competitiveness by asking for its staff to be provided higher priority for the child care center — staff cannot get access for their infants. It would also like to provide additional benefits, like more money for student loan repayments; and the office space has fallen below GSA’s standards of 190 square feet per employee.

OTHER APPROPS

FSGG held its Member Day hearing on Wednesday for the Judicial Branch FY21 budget requests. Transparency was a key theme during the hearing, including Rep. Quigley advocating to make court hearing audio and video available to the public. Ethics investigations were also discussed in great detail, Rep. Torres asked about widespread employee sexual harassment issues while Rep. Cartwright inquired around the current federal laws that prohibit investigations into federal judges’ misconduct after they retire. James Duff of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said that while they do lose jurisdiction once a judge resigns, it doesn’t bar Congress from pursuing impeachment or DOJ opening up a criminal investigation.

• Technology and cybersecurity was also a contentious issue, with the Chair of Judicial Conference Committee on the Budget, John Lungstrum, discussing how cyber incursions have increased from 9 million in 2016 to over 24 million in 2019. Lungstrum stressed funding to hire well-trained, well-compensated IT professionals due to most top talent heading to the private sector for better pay and benefits.

The race for who replaces Rep. Lowey as Chair of Appropriations is already underway, with Reps. Delauro, Wasserman-Schultz, and Kaptur all jockeying for the top spot.

LET CONGRESS BE CONGRESS

An op-ed published by 70 former Senators said that the current Senate is failing to perform its constitutional duties. Despite former lawmakers’ frustrations with the Senate, support for congressional House incumbents is the highest since 2012, with 59% of Americans saying their representative should be re-elected.

Senate GOP and Dems held separate retreats on Wednesday. Keynote speakers included Nigel Farage and Brad Parscale for the GOP and Stacey Abrams for the Dems.

Fix Congress takes the Floor. On Wednesday, SCOMC Chairman Kilmer and Ranking Member Graves spoke on the House floor to highlight the 45 bipartisan recommendations that the Modernization Committee has unanimously passed over the last year.

Empowering staff. While the Modernization Committee continues to push recommendations on the House floor, a group of bipartisan staffers formed the Modernization Staff Association aimed at reforming staff operations to create a more efficient and modern workplace.

Coordinating on tech? LegBranch.org just wrote about how the House needs a new technology working group to effectively modernize data processing without changing the decision making process.

ETHICS & ACCOUNTABILITY

Purges and loyalty tests. Last week, the Trump administration confirmed that it is taking steps to identify and remove employees who are not sufficiently loyal to the president. The oath, of course, is to the Constitution and not to a person.

Heck of an internship. Trump has officially hired a college senior to help run the personnel office in the WH. Why? See above.

A new whistleblower claimed they were reassigned by the Trump administration after highlighting that workers without protective equipment were to receive Americans evacuating from Wuhan, China. Why? See above.

The VA Inspector General is investigating Secretary Wilkie for allegations he tried to discredit a House staffer — she also serves in the Navy Reserves — who reported sexual assault at a VA hospital.

TRANSPARENCY & OVERSIGHT

Dems lose a round in the McGahn case. A three-judge appeals panel held 2-1 that the House cannot use the courts to compel former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify because the Constitution prohibits the courts from resolving this kind of dispute. (This is a bizarre holding.) This overturned a district court opinion; the next step is an en banc hearing. The only other realistic tool available to the House is the use of its rusty inherent contempt powers, which also would be challenged in court.

Rolling Stone. On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to AG Barr asking for documents related to several cases and interviews with over a dozen prosecutors, including those who quit the Roger Stone case two weeks ago.

At long last, the Chief FOIA Officers Council’s Technology Committee has released its best practices and recommendations that can be implemented across agencies.

ODDS & ENDS

On Thursday, the Oversight hearing room was officially named after the late Rep. Elijah Cummings.

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. Check out the weekly USCP arrest round up.

LA GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham won’t seek a fourth term, making him the 23rd GOP member who is retiring at the end of this session.

Key staffers left Capitol Hill last week. Norm Eisen, a key litigator in the House impeachment of President Trump, left his position as counsel for the House Judiciary last Monday. House Intelligence Committee lawyer Daniel Goldman was another face of the impeachment trial and is heading back to New York. Thursday was also the last day for Laura Dove, who spent over six and a half years as a key aide for Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

APPROPRIATIONS HEARINGS

LEG BRANCH

• Hearing on “House Officers FY2021 Budget” on Tuesday, March 3 at 1 pm in HT-2 Capitol.

• Hearing from Members and Public Witnesses testifying on FY21 Budget on Wednesday, March 4 at 1 pm and 2 pm in HT-2 Capitol.

• Hearing on “Architect of the Capitol FY2021 Budget” on Thursday, March 4 at 10 am in HT-2 Capitol and “Government Publishing Office FY2021 Budget” at 11am in HT-2 Capitol.

UPCOMING EVENTS

• The Beeck Center is hosting a Building a Modern Congress workshop hosted by our friends Lorelei Kelly and Marci Harris tomorrow at 5:30.

• House Administration is holding a hearing on“Oversight of the Government Publishing Office” on Tuesday, March 3 at 10 am in 1310 Longworth.

• House Rules Committee is having a hearing on “Article I: Constitutional Perspectives on the Responsibility and Authority of the Legislative Branch” at 10 am in H-313, The Capitol.

• The FOIA Advisory committee will consider recommendations at its upcoming meeting on March 5th.

DOWN THE LINE

• The Federalist Society is holding their Article I Conference onMarch 12 on Capitol Hill.

• Not sure how to obtain Intelligence Community records? OGIS, the ISOO, and the National Declassification Center are giving a primer on Thursday, March 12th at 1.

• Make sure to attend the open government “State of the Union” honoring Sunshine Week 2020 at U.S. Capitol on March 12.

• TechCongress fellow apps are due March 15th.

• DC Open Government Coalition’s Sunshine Week event will take place on March 18 at 6:30 pm. Here’s more information about the agenda and speakers. Please RSVP to rsvp@dcogc.org if you plan to attend.

• NARA’s Sunshine week event is set for March 16th.

• House of Code, Capitol Hill’s Computer Science Fair will be on March 24th in the Rayburn Foyer.

Did we miss your event? Let us know. Thanks a million.