Last week House Officers—the House Clerk, Sergeant at Arms and Chief Admin Officer—testified before the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee. These officers are responsible for floor and committee proceedings, security and the internal workings of the House. They do the tough behind the scenes work that keeps Congress going. Not sure what their duties entail? We’ve got you covered with some examples from last week’s hearing.
• Adding amendments to bills: Four clerks spent two weeks adding 433 amendments to the annual Defense Bill.
• Supporting committee hearings & depositions: 1600 in 2019 alone, which is 40% more than 2018.
• Managing vacant congressional offices: there are currently 5.
• Compiling the House Journal: the Clerk’s office compiles the House Journal by hand each day the same way as it did over 200 years ago. While we appreciate the history, modernizing some practices could create efficiencies and allow staff to work on other matters, including the responsibilities mentioned above as well as modernization projects led by the Clerk’s office.
• Responding to threats and coordinating security: there was an unprecedented number of threats last year and House officers liaised with local law enforcement for support on more than 765 district events in FY 2019.
• Keeping Congress informed about health threats: Dr. Monahan, head of the Office of Attending Physician, has been providing members information about the coronavirus and answered questions during the hearing.
There’s clearly an appetite for improving current practices, including:
• The security clearance process for Congressional staff: Rep. Ruppersberger followed up on his inquiry from last year about House security clearances (see our Primer), noting “we can’t do our jobs when our staff can’t get the information to talk to us about things that we deal with in that realm where you need a clearance.” The Sergeant at Arms noted his office works with leadership and committees “to determine how many clearances each office should have.” This is something the House can address internally, and we’ve submitted a proposal to fix it.
• Modernizing Congressional operations: the CAO included a $10 million request to fund the implementation of the Fix Congress Committee’s recommendations.
• Providing customer service to offices: “Member-focused and service-driven,” that’s the CAO’s new motto when it comes to helping offices. The CAO established (and wants to expand) a Customer Experience Center to serve as a “one stop shop” for Member services and a customer advocate for Member offices.