The 116th Congress is coming to a close, with Members getting ready to depart to campaign full-time and then return in late-November/December for a lame duck session. Time is running out before bills turn into pumpkins and have to be re-introduced at the start of the next Congress. According to GovTrack, 151 bills have become law so far. By comparison, 12,874 bills have been introduced, or 1.1%, although some of these bills are duplicates of ones that have become law.
We and our friends in civil society have compiled a non-exhaustive list of pending good government bills that lawmakers should consider pushing across the finish line before time runs out. As legislation that’s further along in the process is more likely to become law, we’ve sorted our list by their status. We’ve further subdivided the list regarding the part of government they would affect.
Bills That Have Passed The House
The Fiscal Year 2021 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill (FSGG Appropriations) — H.R. 7668
The 2021 FSGG Appropriations bill that passed the House in July and the accompanying committee report include several provisions to reassert Congress’s power-of-the-purse authority to direct and oversee spending. Spending legislation like the 2021 FSGG Appropriations are “must-pass” bills; these bills must be enacted into law or the government shuts down.
The ACMRA, introduced by Transparency Caucus Chair Rep. Quigley in the House and Senator Portman in the Senate, requires that all legally-required, FOIAable agency reports to Congress be made available online in a central archive, with some exceptions.
The ACMRA passed the House July 17, 2019 and was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar; the Senate companion bill, S. 195, was reported favorably by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) in April 2019. It merely needs consideration on the Senate floor. The legislation has strong civil society support — see coalition letters to the House and Senate; this ACMRA one pager has additional context.
The CBJ Transparency Act — introduced by Rep. Quigley in the House and Senators Portman & Peters in the Senate — requires that the plain-language spending roadmaps agencies submit to Congress each year, known as Congressional Budget Justifications, be published in a central, publicly accessible location. Lawmakers have issued similar directives on the matter through report language accompanying recent years’ FSGG appropriations bills. The House passed H.R. 4894 in September 2020; the Senate version of the bill was reported out of HSGAC in March 2020. Civil society wrote letters in support of the measure to the House and to the Senate.
The TRTK Act directs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to create and maintain a public, regularly-updated inventory of federal programs; this would allow constituents and Members of Congress to more easily see where dollars are going and root out duplicative spending. OMB has been previously instructed to create such a list, but execution has been lacking.
TRTK, which has bipartisan support on and off the Hill, was reported out of HSGAC in Fall 2019, passed the House in February 2020, and may be included in the FY 2021 NDAA.
The FACA Amendments Act, introduced by Rep. Lacy Clay in the House and Senator Portman in the Senate, would make advisory committees more transparent by requiring agencies to disclose committee members’ names, how those members were chosen, any stakeholder interests those members represent, and justifications for any conflict of interest waivers granted to members.
The House bill passed on March 12, 2019 and was referred to HSGAC in the Senate. The legislation has the support of several transparency advocates.
Presidential Library Donation Reform Act (PLDRA) — H.R. 1063
Presidential Library donations have been a vehicle for “pay to play” politics for decades; the PLDRA would require fundraising entities to disclose donations over $200 and make these filings available in an online database.
The bipartisan bill, introduced by the late Rep. Cummings, passed the House in February 2019 and was referred to HSGAC in the Senate, where it awaits legislative action. The bipartisan bill has been introduced in every Congress for two decades, but inevitably gets stuck in the Senate.
Electronic Message Preservation Act — H.R. 1582
The Electronic Message Preservation Act, introduced by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, passed the House on March 12, 2019. The bill directs the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to regulate federal agency preservation of electronic messages that are federal records both by creating guidelines and timelines for execution. It is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
The IG Access Act — introduced by Rep. Richmond in the House and Senators Lee, Blackburn, Grassley, Murkowski, and Rubio in the Senate — grants the Justice Department Inspector General the authority to investigate federal attorney misconduct, an issue currently handled by the non-independent Office of Professional Responsibility.
The bill, which has bipartisan support both inside and outside Congress, passed the House in January 2019 and was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2020. A floor vote in the Senate and presidential signature are all that’s needed to turn this common-sense reform bill into law.
The Open Courts Act of 2020 — H.R. 8235
The Open Courts Act of 2020 will not only provide public access to federal court records, but it will also streamline the federal court’s online record system to make court records easier to find.
The Corporate Transparency Act would require companies to disclose information about the people who own or control them (often called the “beneficial owners”), offers civil and criminal penalties for providing faulty disclosure information, and requires GAO to study the availability of beneficial owner information.
The bill passed the House in October 2019, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Over 100 civil society groups have endorsed the bill.
Bills That Have Passed Committee
The Fiscal Year 2021 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill (Leg. Branch Appropriations) — H.R. 7611
Like the FSGG bill mentioned above, the 2021 Leg. Branch Appropriations bill is “must-pass” legislation. The bill and accompanying report include a number of great reforms to enhance Congressional operations and Legislative Branch accountability.
The bill was approved by the House Appropriations Committee but has not received a floor vote; no Senate companion has been publicly released.
The Article One Act was introduced by Senator Lee and a cohort of Republican colleagues in March 2019 and was reported out by HSGAC in November 2019.
The bill expands oversight of presidential emergency declarations; for example, the President would have to submit a report to Congress explaining the circumstances around the emergency declaration, the expected duration, and a summary of the planned course of action. Most importantly, the bill requires a joint-resolution of Congressional approval for an emergency to extend beyond 30 days. While we think Congress should go further, this would be an important step forward.
The president appoints more than 4,000 individuals to serve in an administration, but the only comprehensive list of these appointees is a physical manual (the Plum Book) published every 4 years; the PLUM Act would digitize the process and offer a continuously-updated repository.
The Senate bill, introduced by Senator Carper, was reported out by HSGAC in July 2020. The House companion, introduced by Rep. Maloney, was referred to the House Oversight and Reform Committee as well as the Committee on House Administration and has not moved past introduction. We expect it will be favorably reported out of the Committee on Oversight and Reform in September 2020.
CFO Vision Act — S. 3287
The CFO Vision Act, introduced by Senate Budget Chairman Enzi, was favorably reported by HSGAC in July 2020. The bipartisan bill will standardize and clarify the roles of government agency CFOs, require the tracking and submission of performance-based metrics, and increased coordination between the CFO and other senior officials like Chief Data Officers and Chief Information Officers.
VA FOIA Reform Act of 2020 — H.R. 7163
The bipartisan VA FOIA Reform Act of 2020 aims to reduce the backlog of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests within three years of enactment. The legislation was favorably reported by the House VA committee in September 2020.
Congress has a constitutional obligation to direct and oversee government spending; for decades, however, the Legislative Branch’s grip on the purse strings has slipped as the power of the Executive Branch has expanded.
The Power of the Purse Act — introduced in the House by Budget Chair Yarmuth, Appropriations Chair Lowey, and Oversight Chair Maloney, and in the Senate by Appropriations Vice Chair Leahy — is designed to help Congress reassert its authority in this arena.
Senate Proxy Voting Resolution — S. Res. 548
In March 2019 Senator Portman introduced a bipartisan resolution amending the Standing Rules of the Senate to enable the participation of absent Senators during a national crisis. The resolution was referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration and has not advanced.
Capitol Police Advancement Act of 2020 — H.R. 7513
The Capitol Police Advancement Act, introduced by Committee on House Administration Ranking Member Rodney Davis in July 2020, aims to increase transparency and accountability within the force. The bill would require the Capitol Police Inspector General to publish reports online, direct the department to report arrest information to the DOJ, and more.
The Committee on House Administration has jurisdiction. Similar language was included in the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill for FY 2021.
Searchable Legislation Act of 2019 — H.R. 3403
The Searchable Legislation Act, sponsored by Rep. Amash, was introduced in June 2019 and referred to the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on House Administration. The bill calls for Congressional information to be created and shared as machine-readable, searchable data that can be downloaded in bulk.
In September 2019, Reps. Takano and Foster introduced the OTA Improvement Act in the House; Senators Tillis and Hirono introduced the Senate companion bill. The legislation was referred to the Committee on House Administration and Senate Committee on Rules and Administration respectively.
The legislation aims to improve Congressional access to science and technology expertise needed for legislating and oversight by reviving and redesigning the former Office of Technology Assessment.
Congress Leads by Example Act of 2020 — H.R. 8151
This bill amends the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 — legislation providing Congressional workplace protections — to include whistleblower protections for Legislative Branch employees.
The bill, introduced by Delegate Holmes Norton in September 2020, was referred to the Committee on House Administration, the Judiciary Committee, and the Education & Labor Committee. We are not experts in all aspects of the bill, but the whistleblower language is worthwhile.
See UNdisclosed Legal Interpretations and Get Honest Transparency Act of 2019 (OLC SUNLIGHT Act) — H.R. 4556
Within the DOJ, the little-known Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issues opinions guiding Executive policy; these opinions are not available to the public or, in some cases, even Members of Congress.
The OLC Sunlight Act, introduced by Reps. Cartwright, Lofgren, and Qigley in September 2019, would provide much-needed transparency around OLC opinions. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and has not received a hearing or markup to date.
While the OLC Sunlight Act does not have a Senate companion bill yet, it’s worth noting that Sens. Duckworth and Udall introduced legislation (S. 3334) calling for OLC opinion transparency
Transparency in Government Act (TGA) — H.R. 5150
The TGA, introduced for the last six Congresses by Rep. Quigley, is an omnibus transparency bill with a menu of reforms on issues like Congressional oversight authority, FOIA, court accountability, Member finances, and more.
While we would love to see TGA enacted into law, its purpose is to act as a repository of pre-vetted ideas that already have been reduced to legislative form and are available for introduction as favorable circumstances arise.
The Open and Responsive Government Act — S. 2220
A Supreme Court opinion in 2018, in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader, substantially expanded the scope of FOIA’s exemption 4, which allows “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential” to be withheld. In July 2019 Sens. Grassley, Leahy, Cornyn, and Feinstein introduced the Open and Responsive Government Act, referred to the Judiciary Committee, to serve as a legislative fix for the Argus Leader decision.
Declassification Reform Act of 2020 — S. 3733
The bill creates an Executive Agent for Declassification that would be responsible for promoting declassification systems and developing technological solutions to automate the declassification review process. The legislation, introduced by Senators Wyden and Moran in May 2020, offers a remedy for the massive amount of classified information waiting for review.
To amend the Inspector General Act of 1978 to prohibit an acting Inspector General from serving in more than one position in the Federal Government. — H.R. 8047
This bill introduced by Rep. Keating in August 2020 would amend the IG Act of 1978 to prevent an acting IG from serving in more than one federal government position. The bill was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Recognizing the necessity of preserving official and unofficial records of meetings between the President of the United States and foreign leaders, for the purposes of promoting transparency and the national security of the United States of America. — H. Con. Res. 25
This resolution, introduced by Rep. Rouda in March 2019 and referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, emphasizes that the President must preserve records of foreign meetings and ensure the accessibility of these documents.
The Supreme Court Ethics Act requires the Judicial Conference of the United States to issue a code of conduct for justices and judges House and Senate versions of the bill were both introduced in February 2019 and referred to the Judiciary Committees. The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Johnson, the Senate bill is sponsored by Senator Murphy.
Twenty-First Century Courts Act — H.R. 6017
The Twenty-First Century Courts Act was introduced by Rep. Johnson and co-sponsored by Reps. Quigley and Nadler. The legislation offers several court reforms including the removal of PACER’s paywall and a mandate for audio and archival of both SCOTUS oral arguments and opinion readings, as well as federal appellate proceedings. The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee after being introduced in February 2020 and was recently the subject of a hearing.
Cameras in the Courtroom Act — S. 822
The Cameras in the Courtroom Act, introduced in March 2019 by Senator Durbin, would direct the Supreme Court to permit television coverage of open sessions. The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee.
The Court Access Amid the Pandemic Act — H.R. 6642
The Court Access Amid the Pandemic Act, introduced by Rep. Quigley in April 2020 and co-sponsored by Reps. Holmes Norton and Schakowsky, requires district and circuit court oral arguments be made public in real time through video teleconferencing and telephone conferencing. The bill also requires arguments to be archived and made permanently available online. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2019 — S. 770
The Sunshine in the Courtroom Act provides for media coverage of Federal court proceedings and includes provisions to protect witnesses’ and jurors’ privacy. The legislation was introduced in March 2019 by Senator Grassley and referred to the Judiciary Committee.
Eyes on the Courts Act of 2020 — H.R. 5645
The Eyes on the Courts Act, introduced by Rep. Nadler in January 2020 was referred to the Judiciary Committee. The bill requires the Supreme Court and federal appellate courts to allow live video of proceedings.
The Electronic Court Records Reform Act was introduced by Rep. Collins in the House in February 2019, and by Senators Portman, Wyden, Cruz, and Hirono in the Senate in July 2019.
The legislation would improve the federal courts’ electronic records system by requiring new technologies to improve security, affordability, and performance; this would enable greater access to court records and bring increased efficiency and transparency to the courts.
The Judicial Travel Accountability Act requires that judicial officers provide more detailed information in travel disclosures.
The House bill was introduced by Rep. Cicilline and referred to the Judiciary Committee in October 2019; the Senate bill was introduced by Senator Whitehouse and referred to HSGAC in October 2019.
We also must note Congress has enacted and approved several good government bills and resolution so far during the 116th Congress, including the House rules package approved in January 2019, the resolution implementing a number of Select Committee on Modernization recommendations approved in March 2020, and the resolution to allow for proxy voting and safer legislating during the pandemic approved in May 2020.
With so many bills, it’s impossible to catch all the good ones. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know by emailing [email protected]
Edited December 14, 2020 to reflect changes in legislation status.