THE TOP LINE
Safety first? Rep. Gohmert’s positive COVID-19 test sparked outrage across the Hill, prompting a belated mask mandate in the House, inaction (what else!?!) in the Senate, a possible member-to-member transmission, and countless staffers and aides telling reporters about a backlash from senior staff/Members for wearing masks in their offices or requesting to work remotely. We wrote a letter on March 12 to Congress that included a recommendation to prioritize the health and safety of the public, staff, press, and lawmakers. For now, chamber rules should require remote work unless you absolutely have to be there; chamber and committee proceedings should be remote; Congress should use tech to substitute for paper processes; limited occupancy + masks should be mandated; social distancing is a must; and expanded testing seems prudent. This can’t be a dead letter, either: there needs to be real enforcement.
Appropriation bills continue to move forward in the House, with 10 of 12 passing the lower chamber. Homeland Security was pulled from the mini-bus. Meanwhile, the Senate has yet to schedule its approps markups. (BGOV)
Supplemental funding for Legislative Branch operations was included in the Senate COVID response bill. But the Leg Branch Approps bill has yet to get a House vote.
The Fix Congress Committee released its fourth round of recommendations aimed at improving congressional operations. Several recommendations were created to address the challenges that Members and staff are facing while teleworking during the pandemic.
Frank no more. The COMMS Act, H.R.7512, championed by Rep. Susan Davis, which changes how the Franking Privilege works, passed the House on Thursday. It contains a number of significant reforms. Earlier this year, the House began publishing advisory opinions online and updated the communications standards manual.
Prognosis negative. Countless congressional staffers are reaching out to reporters saying they are being forced to work in person and often are reprimanded for wearing masks. Unlike most workforces, congressional employees do not have a traditional human resources department, making it more difficult to report concerns about safety or discomfort. Many congressional staff are unionized, but not personal, committee, or leadership staff, so there is little pushback against unsafe management practices.
Support agencies too. CRS employees have also said they are being forced to brief lawmakers in-person. (Do I need to say how this is insane?)
What about testing? Despite the continued concerns, Congressional leadership has declined to implement a mandatory testing program, and it’s not clear to us when you are eligible to get a test. (For this to work, the number of people that need to be tested must be kept low, tests need to be processed very quickly, accuracy might be high, and testing must be ongoing.) House Minority Leader McCarthy called for more testing Thursday in a letter to Pelosi. Now that the NYT Editorial Board has opined on the matter, perhaps we will see movement.
Dear Colleague. Two new DCs are out from the CAO: one on using face covers, the other on new cloud services available in the House. See a Dear Colleague we should know about? Send it to [email protected].
The Fix Congress Committee approved a fourth set of recommendations focused on continuity of Congressional operations last week. Several recs were tech focused; measures included ensuring staff have up to date tech & access to regular maintenance, fast tracking approval of platforms needed for telework, and use of digital signatures.
• During the committee’s business meeting (video), Chair Kilmer mentioned committee Members’ intention to introduce legislation that would implement the new recommendations.
What’s due? Speaking of SCOMC, we published our latest article on what reports are due from support offices and agencies.
The Five Minute Rule. Both high-profile hearings (Big tech, AG Barr) highlighted the utility of modernizing committee Q&A. Some ideas: (1) apply the 5-minute rule to the member speaking, and pause it when the witness answers; (2) let staff designated by the Member ask questions; (3) allow pooling of question time; (4) members who wish to ask a question get priority over those who wish to make a statement; (5) with bipartisan agreement, skip witness statements.
Track administration testimony with the Revolving Door Project’s Cabinet Oversight Tracker. It records the last date Cabinet members testified, the total number of times testified, and how long since their last appearance.
POGO’s new report found that internal compliant channels from six federal agencies—including the State Department, NASA, and USAID—are being met with reprisal, with many employees feeling they are a waste of time and often fear retaliation.
Congressional covid oversight committees have been off to a slow start, but the IG-led Pandemic Response Accountability Cmte is having better luck. Listen to the Federal News Network podcast.
Schweikert reprimanded. On Friday, the House passed a privileged resolution to reprimand Rep. David Schweikert pursuant to a unanimous recommendation (arising in what looks from outside like a plea deal with House Ethics) after its investigation found Schweikert committed multiple violations, including misuse of the MRA, expense reporting errors from his campaign, and lack of candor during the investigation. This short summary does not touch upon the scope and nature of his violations, which are extraordinarily broad and alarming. Skim the investigatory subcommittee report table of contents for a taste. This is the first time a Member has been reprimanded on the House floor since 2012, when Rep. Laura Richardson was disciplined.
House Ethics Committee extended its review into Rep. Bishop’s alleged improper campaign and MRA spending, prompting the release of OCE’s report that was filed 162 days previously, on February 20th. OCE found substantial reason to believe that Rep. Bishop reported illegitimate campaign disbursements (i.e., converted the funds for personal use), and improperly spent MRA funds on annual holiday celebrations. (More)
Self-regulating ethics? The Intercept reports Rep. Trahan (D-MA) “lied about campaign funds” but the House Ethics Cmte cleared her regardless.
ODDS & ENDS
Capitol Police disclosed six arrests this past week, the highest number of arrests since mid-March.
The House is out, but if the next COVID relief bill gets negotiated by leadership, it could be recalled within 24-hours. The Senate is in through the end of the week.
• Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is holding a hearing to “Examine Department of Homeland Security personnel deployments to recent protests” at 10am in 342 Dirksen.
FIRST BRANCH FORECAST SCHEDULE
It’s not 100% decided, but we’re likely going to stop publishing the First Branch Forecast during August when the House and Senate are out of session. We might do a very abbreviated version, but if you’re all on vacation, who are we talking to? Stay safe.