Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.
Staffers on Capitol Hill continue to bear the trauma and burn out from working through a pandemic, the 2020 election, and the insurrection, leading many staff to leave their jobs, according to Business Insider’s Kayla Epstein. The article spells out what life has been like for them. Another factor is staff pay and benefits; CRS has a new report on staff pay levels in senators’ offices from FY 2001-2020. While it is not out yet, we are expecting a report from the Senate on staff pay and retention in that chamber; the House’s report is here.
Have politics ever been this nasty? Dr. Jon Grinspan discusses American politics in the late 19th century in a recent article in Politico. “In the years between the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century, U.S. politics was far more unruly, violent and corrupt than it’s been before or since, for politicians and ordinary Americans alike. It was a period of mass participation, but also mass outrage.” He notes that that era saw the highest voter turnouts in American history, actually stolen elections, and thousands dead in political warfare. Take a look.
Security supplemental draft language began circulating in the House last week, according to Roll Call’s Katherine Tully-McManus. We really don’t know much about the legislation except that Sen. Leahy elicited a positive response from the USCP and Architect regarding whether the funding levels it contains address their concerns. Even the scope of the legislation is unclear to us. Demand Progress released a security supplemental recommendations report on what should be included.
USCP, AOC, and the Senate Sergeant at Arms all testified before the Senate Leg Branch Appropriations Subcommittee last Wednesday, which we summarize below. The subcommittee will hold its second hearing on LOC, CBO, and GAO FY 2022 budgets on Wednesday. The House Leg Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, by comparison, is finished with its hearings except for Member day.
Congressional calendar. The Senate is in session this week but will move to a state work period next week. The next two weeks are committee work weeks for the House. President Biden will address Congress Wednesday evening, although only a fraction of members will be able to attend.
Hearings this week. On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary is holding a hearing on Supreme Court Fact-Finding and the Distortion of American Democracy. On Wednesday, Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittee is holding a hearing on budget requests for the Library, CBO, and GAO. On Thursday, House Oversight is holding a hearing on the Capitol Insurrection; House Budget is holding a hearing on Congress’s power of the purse; and House Modernization is holding a hearing on Congressional internships. More details below.
House approps subcommittees will not be holding “in-person” public witness testimony (via video) this year, citing the pandemic. Demand Progress will host a webinar this Friday at 11 am ET where you can hear from organizations and individuals who otherwise would have testified in person on improving government transparency and accountability. Speakers including former Member of Congress Brian Baird, Demand Progress’s Legal Director Ginger McCall, President of the R Street Institute Eli Lehrer, yours truly, and more. RSVP here.
Transparency webinar on Star Wars day. On Tuesday, May 4th, our team is hosting the first Advisory Committee on Transparency event of the 117th Congress, focused on what’s on Congress’s transparency and open government agenda. Panelists include Liz Hempoicz of the Project of Government Oversight, Freddy Martinez of Open the Government, and yours truly. It will be moderated by GovExec’s Courtney Buble. RSVP here.
Several appropriations deadlines are this week, with each House subcommittee closing its Member requests Wednesday through Friday. If you’re looking for ideas, check this out. No new public witness testimony deadlines have been added. Keep up to date with all of the deadlines by using our handy spreadsheet.
LEGISLATIVE BRANCH APPROPRIATIONS
Senate Leg Branch Appropriations heard FY 2022 budget requests from the USCP, AOC, and Senate Sergeant at Arms during its first hearing of the year last Wednesday.
The Capitol Police requested a $107 million funding increase in FY 2022, reiterating its request for a $619.2 million budget for FY 2022, initially made at its House appropriations hearing last month. This request represents a $107 million or 20.1% increase from FY 2021. It is likely the Capitol Police will also receive a significant boost in funding above this number through the security supplemental. Their 20.1% increase is for hiring 212 new officers; covering salary, COLA, and overtime; providing student loan repayment; and expanding employee wellness initiatives and access to OEA programs. The USCP likely will request hundreds more staff on top of this number in light of the Gen. Honoré review. Acting USCP Chief Pittman testified that threats to members and their staff have increased 65% in the first four months of 2021 compared to 2020. Reminder that Capitol Police used to be just 3% of the Leg branch budget two decades ago, but now is 10% before the proposed increase and it likely will become an even larger piece of the pie.
Who does the USCP Board report to? All three witnesses currently sit on the Board, yet gave different answers on who the Board reports to. We note with significant concern that Acting Capitol Police Chief Pittman said the Board only was accountable to Congressional leadership and did not mention congressional oversight or appropriations committees, although the AOC and Senate SAA did. (See timestamp 1:13:33 to 1:15:52). GAO identified USCP responsiveness to leadership but not the committees of jurisdiction as a problem in their 2017 report.This also comes up in House Admin’s hearing with the USCP IG last week. We note the Capitol Police Board is now advertising for a new Police Chief, and the acting chief has put her name in for the job, WUSA9 reported.
Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton requested a $865 million budget for FY 2022, with much of the increase intended to address the agency’s $1.8 billion backlog. Blanton testified that AOC’s risk-based project prioritization process identified $171.5 million for capital projects. $92.7 million, or 54 percent, is for projects that did not receive funding in FY 2021, including projects dealing with the lack of sprinkler systems the Capitol and utility distribution projects on the Capitol Power Plant. As we mentioned when Blanton testified before the House, the absence of an adequate fire suppression system in the Capitol is extraordinarily concerning. The AOC is also expected to request additional funds on top of this through the security supplemental based on the recommendations of Gen. Honoré.
Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson requested a $281.7 million budget for FY 2022, a $53.7 million or 23.5% increase from the FY21 enacted level. Roughly $25 million of the requested funds will support business continuity and disaster needs. Senate SAA plans to hire 30 additional employees, bringing the total number from 957 to 987 employees. 14 of the 30 new employees would respond to threats dealing with senators’ physical security. New hires will coordinate with USCP, as well as local, state, and federal law enforcement; House SAA; and the Executive branch. We note the USCP has a coordination unit. Modernizing the Senate is a priority of the SAA; Demand Progress has recommendations on where to start.
Strengthening remote operations and tech are of paramount importance for the Senate SAA. Gen. Gibson testified that 11 new hires will support the CIO, strengthening IT, and expanding IT. By the end of last week, the Senate produced 390 remote or hybrid-remote hearings. $5 million of the new fund will go to building better senate tech. Gibson said their team continues to work with the Architect and Senate Rules to replace all audio and video systems in all committee hearing rooms, including Hart 216, which repeatedly showed issues during the Barrett confirmation hearings. We would love to see the Senate mirror the House of Representatives and provide video from all hearings & markups to the Library of Congress for publication online on a central website.
No one single department is responsible for cybersecurity across the Leg branch. Sen. Braun posed a question of who is in charge of Leg branch cybersecurity, and each witness said they were responsible for their own. The Senate SAA is responsible for the Senate. The House SAA is responsible for the House. The USCP has their own person for the USCP. But no one is in charge of congressional cybersecurity across the Leg branch. We’ve lost count of the number of Legislative branch cybersecurity working groups. A decentralized model for Legislative branch cybersecurity is a recipe for disaster.
APPROPRIATIONS AND EARMARKS
Deeming resolutions, which are an alternative to budget resolutions and allow each chamber to set budget levels for the upcoming fiscal year, are the topic of a newly updated CRS report. Appropriators need top line numbers to report out their bills, and in light of the very delayed White House Budget and the likely difficulty in passing a timely budget resolution, the deeming resolution will be of significant importance this year.
An ear full. The Senate Republicans Conference decided their “ban” on earmarks will stay in place and not hold a vote on the matter. Many GOP senators plan to file earmark requests, and conference leadership won’t punish them for doing so. This is the best of all political worlds: no blowback for lifting a non-existent ban, but the ability for some members to claim to be deficit hawks and attack Democrats. As you know, House Republicans voted by secret ballot to remove its earmark ban from its rules in March. Earlier last week, over a dozen Senate GOP members signed a letter, obtained by Politico, pledging their support to keep the earmark ban in place.
Conference Rules. The decision to uphold the earmark ban also provided the Senate Republican Conference an opportunity to publish their rules online. We last checked on Friday and the 117th rules have still not been published. They have the rules up for the 116th.
CONGRESSIONAL OPS & PROCEDURE
Bloc party. House Demsmoved to vote en bloc on suspension bills last week after Freedom Caucus Chair Biggs continued to request roll call votes on suspension bills. Suspension bills are generally non-controversial and enjoy bipartisan support; the request for roll call votes wasted significant floor time and delayed non-controversial matters. It was foreseeable that House Democrats would respond in this way, which of course makes matters worse for everyone by creating the likelihood that en bloc voting will be abused by leadership in the future.
The House is now allowing visitors on “official business” back into the Capitol complex, according to Axios’ Hans Nichol and Kaida Goba. We would caution against this until all Members and staff who can be vaccinated are vaccinated.
William Joseph Walker was elected as the House Sergeant at Arms last week. He assumes duty today. Walker will be the chamber’s first Black SAA and was previously the commanding general of the D.C National Guard, is a decorated veteran guardsman, and former DEA special agent.
House Majority Leader Hoyer announced several staff changes for the 117th Congress.
House Modernization Committee named Derek Harley as the Republican staff director of the committee last week.
Speaker Pelosi will offer a 9/11-style commission with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans and with shared subpoena power to review the January 6th insurrection. There is still an open question as to the scope of the commission — Pelosi wants it focused on the insurrection while Republicans wish to widen it to focus on unrelated issues like people who protested against police brutality, per CNN. Republicans had rejected her earlier proposal. Republican leaders in both chambers say they haven’t been sent her proposal, per Punchbowl News.
TRANSPARENCY & ETHICS
The Office of Congressional Ethics released its First Quarter Report. OCE has launched four investigations since the beginning of the 117th Congress.
House Ethics Committee upheld two $5,000 metal detector fines last week, one for House Dem. Whip Clyburn who evaded a metal detector on April 20 and the other for Rep. Rogers who failed to adhere to an USCP officer’s request to be wanded after setting off a magnetometer on April 14. We welcome enforcement of this rule against a Democrat by the House because it suggests it is being applied fairly to all.
BILLS & REPORTS & LAWS
IG Independence and Empowerment Act was introduced by the Chair and RM of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations. It is aimed at increasing the independence of inspectors general and protecting them from political retaliation. The legislation contains several bills and provisions that were introduced last Congress. Congress’s ability to limit the removal of IGs is the subject of an updated report by CRS.
The DC Statehood bill passed the House last Thursday. Major hurdles remain in the Senate.
A brief on the The Senate Powersharing Agreement of the 117th Congress was updated by CRS.
The Senate Shared Employee Act, S. 422, was signed into law. The legislation allows Senators, Senators-elect, committees of the Senate, leadership offices, and other offices of the Senate to share employees.
ODDS & ENDS
Over 50 military, law enforcement, and government personnel have been arrested for their participation in the Jan 6 insurrection, according to ABC News’s Olivia Rubin.
The House elected members of the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library and the Joint Committee on Printing. House Members include Reps. Lofgren, Ryan, Butterfield, Davis (IL), and Loudermilk for the Committee on the Library; and Reps. Lofgren, Raskin, Fernandez, Davis (IL), and Loudermilk for the Committee on Printing. The Senate will name its own members. The joint committees are among the oldest, but alas they have not had independent staff since the late 1990s and in practice their responsibilities, to the extent they are met, are performed by the House Administration and Senate Rules Committees. This is, in part, the legacy of a Supreme Court decision, Ins. v. Chadha, and ongoing efforts by the Department of Justice to undermine congressional committee powers.
Ohio GOP Rep. Steve Stivers announced he will be leaving Congress on May 16th to lead the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
The final countdown. The Dome Watch app’s latest update includes a vote timer that shows the exact time of votes and the closing time of each vote window.
• Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee is holding a hearing to “Examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal year 2022 for the Library of Congress, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office” at 2:00 pm ET.
• House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agenices is holding a hearing on “Violent Extremism and Domestic Terrorism in America: The Roles and Response of DOJ” at 10:00 am.
• House Oversight and Reform Committee is holding a hearing on “The Capitol Insurrection: Unexplained Delayed and Unanswered Questions” at 10:00 am.
• House Budget Committee is holding a hearing on “Protecting our Democracy: Reasserting Congress’ Power of the Purse” at 1:00 pm.
• House Modernization Committee is holding a hearing on “Congressional Internships” at 2:00 pm ET.
Down the Road
• House Oversight and Reform Committee is holding a hearing on “Improving Government Accountability and Transparency” on Monday, May 3 at 11:00 am.
• Hack the Capitol 4.0 hosted by R Street Institute, the Cyber Bytes Foundation, and the National Security Institute is happening on Tuesday May 4th 9:00 am – 5:30 pm ET.
• OGIS will host the Center of Disease Control FOIA Office for an event titled “Finding a Needle in a Haystack: Enterprise-wide FOIA Searches at CDC” on Thursday, May
• OGIS Annual Open Meeting is being held on Tuesday, May 12 from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm ET. Registration is not open yet.
• The Data Foundation’s four day virtual symposium focusing on the use of data for an equitable, data-informed society is happening May 18-21. Learn more here.
• FOIA Advisory Committee Meeting is being held on Thursday, June 10 from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm ET. Registration is not open yet.