Pay Study Data: Relationship of Cost of Living Adjustments & Staff Longevity

Last year the House released a valuable report on staff pay, benefits, and diversity. We took a look at the data to answer the question, are better pay and benefits really correlated with staff staying on board? The short answer is yes.

We’ll be releasing a series of short articles focusing on different variables and their impact on staff longevity. This article, the first in that series, focuses on the impact of cost of living adjustments (COLAs) on staff retention.

Continue reading “Pay Study Data: Relationship of Cost of Living Adjustments & Staff Longevity”

Forecast for April 27, 2020.

Good morning. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in 200,000 dead worldwide, including 50,000 deaths in the U.S. and 165 dead in Washington, D.C., with the number of metropolitan cases continuing to increase. Despite the rising toll, the House and Senate held in-person votes this past week, several members of Congress want to reopen the Capitol, and some members ignored safety measures. We believe Congress must get back to work — safely. But efforts in both chambers to permit remote deliberations did not reach fruition.

There continues to be a pollyannish approach to this pandemic, especially on the part of federal lawmakers. People hold unsupported beliefs: COVID-19 is just like the flu, you don’t need masks, it will burn itself out by summer, it doesn’t strike children, having COVID-19 confers immunity, there will be a vaccine next year, and so on. Some of these beliefs we know are wrong, others are optimistic assumptions.

We won’t know when COVID-19 will end and we have major gaps in our understanding of the disease. Contingency planning includes preparing for a range of possible outcomes, including less optimistic scenarios: what if it causes permanent disability? What if a vaccine takes a long time? Proper planning should also address confounding problems: what if there’s a hurricane? What if a Supreme Court justice dies? What if air travel stops?

Continue reading “Forecast for April 27, 2020.”

Presidential Signing Statements: Congressional Actions

(Update, 04/24/20): On April 3, we provided a summary of all the congressional actions related to signing statements. Here is an analysis of the common themes in the legislation: 

  • Requires the Executive to give Congress notice and reasoning for all statements.
  • Bars government entities (including state and federal courts) from using signing statements in interpreting the law.
  • Gives Congress standing to seek declaratory relief, allows Congress to intervene in cases or allows Congress to issue “clarifying” statement.  
  • Requires AG, Deputy AG, White House Counsel to testify before Judiciary at the behest of any single member to explain; can’t invoke executive privilege.  
  • Limits funds made available to the Executive to produce, publish, or disseminate any signing statement.
  • Cuts off funding authorized or expended to implement any law accompanied by a signing statement if Executive doesn’t comply with congressional restrictions on signing statements. 

(Original Article) Following up on our discussion of Signing Statements (triggered by the President’s signing statement on the coronavirus relief legislation), here are the hearings and legislation we found on the subject. If we missed something, please email

Continue reading “Presidential Signing Statements: Congressional Actions”

Forecast for April 20, 2020


The House inches forward on remote deliberations. Speaker Pelosi belatedly flipped her position and now supports a very limited form of remote voting, although it remains to be seen whether she will support restarting the committees and allowing remote deliberations on the floor — and whether she needs to bring members back to change the rules. Her choice remains remote Congress or no Congress, but she could misuse this opportunity to further centralize power in leadership’s hands.

The Senate is nowhere on remote deliberations, at least with respect to the floor, although there are some rumblings about committees.

Make it work. CRS issued a report on the constitutionality of remote voting and an assortment of civil society and former members held a simulated hearing to show how remote committee deliberations could work.

With Congress defunct, the President made (another) grab for Legislative Branch powers.

Check out our newest resources, including a website of all things continuity of congress, a database of the Members of Congress who support remote voting, the results of the House study on pay and diversity as a downloadable dataset, and our investigation of trends in CRS work over the last 30 years.

We hate to ask, but have you subscribed to the First Branch Forecast? It’s free and comes out once a week. Continue reading “Forecast for April 20, 2020”

Testimony before a Simulated Virtual Hearing on Remote Voting in Congress

A coalition of organizations, including a number of former Members of Congress, held a simulated virtual hearing on April 16, 2020, to illustrate how the House of Representatives or Senate could use technology to hold a remote hearing. The following is my prepared remarks concerning the constitutional and rules questions that might arise concerning such a proceeding.

 * * * * *

Chairman Baird, Co-Chairman Inglis, distinguished former members of Congress, it is my honor to speak with you today.

It has now been 33 days since the House of Representatives held its last hearing, and 31 days since the House’s last roll call vote on the floor. The legislative branch’s absence has created a power vacuum that the executive branch is readily exploiting. Congress must get back to work. The question is how. Continue reading “Testimony before a Simulated Virtual Hearing on Remote Voting in Congress”

New Data on House Staff Pay and Retention

Congressional staff are generally overworked and underpaid. Talented employees with vast institutional knowledge are eventually forced to choose between Congress and a sustainable lifestyle; the result is a Legislative Branch brain drain with employees leaving for better paying jobs in the Executive Branch or private sector. On top of that, Congress has a diversity problem: staff don’t reflect the constituency their bosses represent.

Continue reading “New Data on House Staff Pay and Retention”

Forecast for April 13, 2020.

It has been another tough week just about everywhere. We hope you and yours are staying safe. This newsletter is becoming harder and harder to write, but we hope it is helpful as we work together to keep our democracy.


We launched a website that gathers all the major resources and developments on continuity of Congress. Cleverly enough, it’s at Did we miss something? Drop us an email at

Read this: the Washington Post’s Mike Debonis and Paul Kane have a superb article that you really should read: “Sidelined by coronavirus pandemic, Congress cedes stage and authority to Trump.” They don’t have everything — we worked awfully hard on our report addressing the issues raised by House Rules Dems — but they expertly illustrate how power is shifting to the Executive branch as Congress has made itself unable to act.

• Speaker Pelosi is continuing to dig in on remote deliberations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and dismissed calls from the rank and file: “We’re not there yet, and we’re not going to be there no matter how many letters somebody sends in.”

• Perhaps the letters she referenced were those from the House New Dems and Problem Solvers Caucuses. New Dems urged that “Committees should … utiliz[e] the technology solutions identified by the House Committee on Administration to hold virtual legislative hearings and meetings as soon as possible.” The Problem Solvers called for “alternative ways” for the House to function that boil down to different versions of remote deliberations.

• According to our latest count111 members of the House have publicly articulated support for remote voting. (Majority Leader McConnell has entirely disappeared from this debate.)

 A new poll said “80% of Americans support Members of Congress being able to vote ‘remotely’ during the coronavirus pandemic,” and only 10% oppose. Members of Congress must be feeling the pressure to get back to work.

Continue reading “Forecast for April 13, 2020.”

Where Each Member Stands on Remote Voting in Congress

Congress must change its rules to temporarily enable Members to vote remotely to ensure continuity of Congress.

Where Does Each Member Stand Two Weeks Later?

(Update, 04/10/20 11:48am): Two weeks ago, our team compiled a database to keep track of Members in the House and Senate who support emergency remote voting. 

Support for remote voting measures has grown significantly over the past two weeks. On April 2, the New Democrat Coalition Caucus wrote a letter to leadership urging them to engage in new remote measures. Then, on April 7, the Problem Solvers Caucus sent a bipartisan letter to leadership imploring the House to consider measures to enable Members to work remotely, including voting by phone or videoconference, or having voting machines installed in district offices.

Despite this bipartisan push by Rank and File Members and various caucuses, leadership is still against making any changes to the rules to enable remote voting in Congress. Speaker Pelosi indicated that the House most likely will not come back on its originally planned date of April 20, further disabling Congress’ ability to conduct regular business, schedule for its next round of appropriations, and conduct oversight of the executive branch.

Here are the key findings after two weeks:

  • 42 additional Representatives support remote voting. (23 Democrats and 19 Republicans).
  • In total, 111 Representatives support remote voting (88 Democrats and 23 Republicans).
  • No additional support in the Senate (18 total: 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans).
Continue reading “Where Each Member Stands on Remote Voting in Congress”

How Has the Congressional Research Service’s Work Changed Over Thirty Years?

How has the Congressional Research Service’s work changed over the last 30 years? We gathered almost five decades of the agency’s annual reports and built a spreadsheet of its self-reported activities. We found interesting patterns, the absence of expected patterns, and lots of missing data. Our key findings:

First, CRS is decreasing its consultations with clients and shifting its resources to providing written products.

Second, CRS is creating more “new” written products and providing fewer “updated” written products, which suggests a shift away from creating and maintaining in-depth analytical products to comparatively superficial, fast-response pieces. 

Third, there’s no apparent connection between the products CRS creates and public access to general distribution CRS reports.

Continue reading “How Has the Congressional Research Service’s Work Changed Over Thirty Years?”