First Reactions to Senate Democrats’ Commerce, Justice, Science FY 2022 Appropriations Subcommittee Bill

On October 18, 2021, the Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats released draft bill text, an explanatory statement, and a subcommittee summary for the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill. We reviewed the contents and compared the proposed funding to the enacted levels from the last Congress.

Senate Democrats’ CJS appropriations bill includes a discretionary funding level of $79.7 billion, an increase of $8.55 billion over the FY 2021 enacted levels, a 12% increase. By comparison, the House version was favorably reported by committee but has not passed the chamber; it provided for a funding level of $81.3 billion

We were disappointed to see that language requiring transparency for Office of Legal Counsel opinions was not included in the Senate version. This language, which would have encouraged the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to proactively release final OLC legal opinions, had been included in the House CJS Appropriations Committee Report (thanks, in large part, to the leadership of Rep. Cartwright). Here’s why final OLC opinions should be available to Congress and the public. However, so long as the explanatory language is not modified or negated in the version adopted by the Senate or agreed to by the chambers, the House’s pro-disclosure language will become operative.

The Senate CJS Committee Explanatory Statement included several notable provisions that caught our eye:

The Foreign Agents Registration Act is the focus of a request that directs the Attorney General to evaluate the feasibility of requiring all filings be submitted in an electronic, structured data format and published in a searchable, sortable, downloadable format. (p. 89) Demand Progress had requested language on FARA be included.

Whistleblower protection at the Justice Department is the focus of two directives within the explanatory statement. The first raises concerns that contractors are not being protected despite a mandate, and the committee directs the DOJ to explain how the agency will implement unresolved recommendations. (p. 75) In addition, the FBI must report on how it will implement unresolved GAO recommendations from 2015. (p. 94)

Serious misconduct identified by the OIG is not being prosecuted by the DOJ, and the committee directs the Attorney General to publish the number of cases referred for prosecution, the number of cases the DOJ declines to prosecute, and the reasons why. (p. 77)

Continue reading “First Reactions to Senate Democrats’ Commerce, Justice, Science FY 2022 Appropriations Subcommittee Bill”

Forecast for October 25, 2021

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THE TOP LINE

Congress is in. The House is back today and has both the Infrastructure and Build Back Better bills tentatively set for floor consideration; the Senate also is back today. The committee schedule is here, and we’ve put notable (to us) hearings and events in the calendar section, below.

Senate Appropriations. Senate Democrats published nine draft appropriations bills after months of requesting Republicans negotiate over the contents; Senate Republicans immediately condemned their publication as “unilateral” and resulting from a “one-sided process.” With government funding expiring on December 3rd, we appreciate Senate Democrats making transparent their positions, which appear to incorporate a number of Republican priorities. It seems likely that Republican disagreement will result in a skipped markup process and behind-the-scenes negotiations among the parties. Read on for our first reactions to approps, with more to come.

Reimagining the congressional support agencies was the subject of two separate hearings last week: a House ModCom hearing on modernizing three policy support agencies (CBO, GAO, and CRS), and an oversight hearing before the Senate Rules Committee on modernizing the Library of Congress (of which CRS is part). As you might imagine, we’ve got a lot to say — and said it in this new blogpost.

— Support agency modernization. How Congress makes sense of the world was the focus of the House Modernization Committee hearing that honed in on the operations of the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, and the Congressional Budget Office. It was one of the most insightful hearings of the 117th Congress. Four issues, in my opinion, encapsulate the challenges facing these agencies. They are (1) funding, (2) Legislative branch agency access to Executive branch-held information; (3) congressional and public access to Legislative branch agency information; (4) workforce management. When I enumerate this list it seems kinda dry, but the hearing was juicy and we’ve identified a number of next steps that reimagine how Congress receives support from its legislative branch policy support agencies.

— The Library of Congress was the focus of a Senate Rules Committee modernization hearing, which seemed largely focused on the copyright office, although directors of CRS and National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled also testified. Oversight hearings concerning the Legislative branch are generally rare, staid, complimentary, and superficial — unless there is a scandal. (House Admin’s 2019 hearing into CRS is a notable counterexample — it addressed significant dysfunction at CRS.) We were impressed, however, by Sen. Ossoff’s question to CRS’s Director, Dr. Mary Mazanac, about what she thought the agency should do if it had unlimited resources. The answer, alas, did not express any long term vision or insight into the changing needs of Congress.

Planners of pro-Trump rallies who organized and planned the Jan. 6th “protest” participated in dozens of planning meetings with Members of Congress and White House staff, including Reps. Greene, Gosar, Boebert, Brooks, Cawthorn, Biggs, and Gohmert, Rolling Stone reported. Rep. Gosar reportedly told the organizers that Pres. Trump would issue blanket pardons for an unrelated investigation if they went forward with the “protests.”

Continue reading “Forecast for October 25, 2021”

Congress’s Policy Support Agencies

How Congress makes sense of the world was the focus of a House Modernization Committee hearing today that honed in on the operations of three support agencies: the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, and the Congressional Budget Office. It was one of the most insightful hearings of the 117th Congress.

Congress created its support agencies to provide the Legislative branch with information and analysis unsullied by Executive branch bias. Congress began funding its own expert policy support agencies because funding can shape an organization’s behavior and responsiveness, including the perspectives and focus of its staff.

Today’s hearing had the agency heads as witnesses: Gene Dodaro for GAO, Mary Mazanec for CRS, and Phillip Swagel for CBO; it also had a second panel of experts who provided critical insight into those agencies: Zach Graves on GAO, Wendy Ginsberg on CRS, and Philip Joyce on CBO. While the agency heads were not placed on the same panel with the experts, they were asked to respond to the experts’ recommendations that had through happenstance been released ahead of time, which provided a useful starting point. (This makes me wonder whether a best practice for committees might be to require and publish written testimony a week in advance and request that oral testimony incorporate responses to the testimony from others.)

This was a modernization hearing, not an oversight hearing, so the focus was on the direction the policy support agencies are heading and not specific details on where and why they are falling short. Oversight work generally falls upon the Legislative branch Appropriations Committees that have jurisdiction over all three agencies and, to varying degrees, the authorizing committees: House Admin and Senate Rules for CRS; House Oversight and Senate HSGAC for GAO; and the Budget Committees for CBO.

Continue reading “Congress’s Policy Support Agencies”

First Reactions to Senate Democrats’ Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee Bill

On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats released draft text, explanatory statements, and summaries for nine appropriations bills, including the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. We reviewed the bill text, explanatory report, and subcommittee bill summary and compared the proposed funding to the enacted levels from the last Congress. 

Senate Democratic Appropriators proposed a discretionary funding level of $29.4 billion, a $4.8 billion increase compared to FY 2021 enacted levels, or 16.3 percentage increase. This proposal represents $154 million less than the president’s request. For reference, the House-version — which passed the House in July as part of a minibus (here’s the committee report) — proposed $29.1 billion. Senate Republicans disapproved of Democrats publication of these bills and are calling for an agreement on top line spending levels; Democrats have been calling for negotiations for months.

Prior to this appropriations cycle, we compiled a list of ideas to include in the FY 2022 FSGG Appropriations bill. They include creating virtual visitor logs, providing centralized access to agency congressional budget justifications, public access to OMB apportionment decisions, listing unpublished IG reports on oversight.gov, improving congressional and public access to IG reports, and a COVID-19 spending tracker.

We note two notable provisions in the Senate’s explanatory statement

1. Apportionment Transparency

Providing $1 million to OMB to create a system to make apportionment of appropriations publicly available in a timely manner. Once the system is complete, OMB will be required to place each apportionment document on the public website within two days. (p. 45 of bill text and p. 28 of explanatory statement).

2. Federal Government Internships

Directing OPM to develop a strategy — which includes working with federal agencies and nonprofits — to increase the number of interns in the federal government over a three-year period. The strategy must include recruitment practices, onboarding, professional development, and offboarding (p. 83 of the explanatory statement).

Continue reading “First Reactions to Senate Democrats’ Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee Bill”

Forecast for October 18, 2021

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THE TOP LINE

Send me in, coach. The House returns on Tuesday with a fairly light floor schedule that suggests bigger legislation is afoot. The Senate reconvenes on Monday. In addition to our list of notable events and hearings, it appears that the Attorney General will be testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

We’re watching the Senate to see if/when it will report out its FY2022 Appropriations bills. If, like us, you’re especially eager to see Leg Branch Approps, consider this an aperitif: CRS has a new report covering the FY 2022 Leg Branch Approps bill. As a reminder, our research shows that funding for the Legislative branch has grown at half the rate of the other non-defense discretionary spending and that the vast majority of new funds over the last quarter-century have gone to the Architect and the Capitol Police. This fiscal year the House has ponied up but will the Senate see the raise?

Congress is failing to retain capable staff and that problem is particularly acute among Black staffers, the New York Times reported. Among the recommendations outlined in a joint letter from the Congressional Black Associates and the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus: (1) living wages for all congressional staffers, (2) a stronger pipeline from college to the Legislative branch, (3) more opportunities to develop skills inside Congress, (4) purposeful and fair hiring practices. We note the Joint Center and Pay Our Interns have much to share on these points. In addition to the aspects cited in the Times article, we must emphasize the importance of having Legislative branch wide data, of the Senate establishing an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, of establishing pay floors for interns and staff and improving staff recruitment, and of considering unionization. Crucially, improving funding for the Legislative branch — and especially staff pay — is the price of democracy and the focus of calls from good government groups on the left and on the right.

There’s a bunch of transparency and oversight events this week and next:

• COVID-19 response transparency. The Congressional Transparency Caucus will discuss the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee — the oversight committee created to monitor the disbursement of the CARES act and five other pandemic-related packages totalling over $5 trillion — on Wednesday, October 20th at 10 AM ET. Panelists include PRAC Chair and DOJ IG Michael Horowitz, Liz Hempowiz of POGO, Chicago IG Joseph Ferguson, and Deputy IG at the Department of the Interior Caryl N. Brzymialkiewicz. Register here.

• Modernizing the Library of Congress. An oversight hearing on LOC’s modernization efforts will be held by the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday, October 20th at 3 PM.

• Modernizing Congressional Support Agencies (CBO/GAO/CRS) is the subject of another House Modernization Committee hearing scheduled for Wednesday, October 21st from 9-11 AM. We previewed Zach Graves’ testimony on GAO, and Wendy Ginsberg’s on CRS, in last week’s newsletter.

• Safeguarding Inspector General Independence and Integrity — especially topical for today’s newsletter — will be considered at an HSGAC hearing this Thursday, October 21st at 10:15 AM.

• Transparency lightning talks. New transparency policy ideas will be discussed in a quick, digestible format on Monday, November 8th at 11 AM ET at the Advisory Committee on Transparency’s fourth event of 2021. Presenters include transparency experts from across the political spectrum: Walter Shaub of POGO, Erica Newland of Protect Democracy, Corinna Turbes of the Data Coalition, Reynold Schweickhardt of the Lincoln Network, and more. RSVP here.

Continue reading “Forecast for October 18, 2021”

Forecast for October 12, 2021

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THE TOP LINE

The House will be back briefly on Tuesday to vote to raise the debt ceiling. With the quick turn-around during a committee work week, how many members will vote by proxy? Honestly, voting remotely seems appropriate here, although members should have their full powers to intervene on the House floor (i.e., make motions) regardless of whether they’re physically present, which current House rules do not yet provide for. The Senate will be back on October 18th.

The Congressional Transparency Caucus will discuss the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee — the oversight committee created to monitor the disbursement of the CARES act and five other pandemic-related packages totalling over $5 trillion — on Wednesday, October 20th at 10 AM. Panelists include PRAC Chair and DOJ IG Michael Horowitz, Liz Hempowiz of POGO, Chicago IG Joseph Ferguson, and more. Register here.

Transparency lightning talks. If you’re interested in a series of quick pitches for making government more open and accountable, the Advisory Committee on Transparency will be hosting a series of short presentations that you can watch from the comfort of your desk. The all-star list of presenters includes Walter Shaub of POGO, Corinna Turbes of the Data Coalition, Erica Newland of Protect Democracy, Freddy Martinez of Open The Government, and more. The event is set for 11:00 am ET on November 8th. RSVP here.

Continue reading “Forecast for October 12, 2021”

Forecast for October 4, 2021

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Congress passed the stopgap funding bill on September 30, temporarily averting a government shutdown. While in theory there will be no House floor votes until the 19th and the next two weeks are committee work weeks, with the debt ceiling default almost upon us, the House will be back sooner than that. Also in theory, the Senate is in this week but will be out October 11-15. How will negotiations go on all this? For the Democrats, a lot depends on how it is framed in the media, and it seems pundits are giving Republicans a pass.

The end of the fiscal year also means that agency actions pursuant to FY 2021 appropriations report language (unless otherwise specified) are past due. Would it surprise you that we have a list of all items required and requested in the FY 2021 Legislative branch appropriations bill? (Among other things, there’s a lot of activity we have yet to see from the U.S. Capitol Police.)

Continue reading “Forecast for October 4, 2021”