This week. The Senate is in today; the House is in tomorrow. This week, we’ll be glued to another round of Leg branch approps hearings on the Library of Congress, GPO, & the AOC; a CJS approps double-header with the Justice Department, a ModCom hearing on modernizing the legislative process; and a House Judiciary hearing on judicial ethics. Oh, and on suspension is the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, which passed the Senate already and, if enacted, would create a stock trading and online financial disclosure system for the judiciary.
Unionization timing. We’re still waiting to see when House leadership will finally bring the congressional unionization resolution to a floor. The Congressional Workers Union called for a floor vote this week. It’s been 81 days since Speaker Pelosi offered full support for Congressional staff to unionize (on Feb. 3rd) and 54 days since the House Admin Committee held a hearing on unionization (on March 2nd.) As this decision is entirely within their power, why the delay? Vox’s excellent explainer on Congressional unionization asks “how committed are [House Democrats] to unions when it’s their own employees who want one?” Well?
Committee expense adjustment. We’re still scratching our heads on when committee staff will get their pay adjustment and why some committee staff are getting adjustments at half the rate of leadership and personal office staff. Before the recess, House Admin voted on allocations for the committees that apparently stiffed many committee staffers. The committee allocation resolution was officially reported by the Committee this past Thursday. We don’t see it in the Weekly Leader for measures set to be considered on the floor this week, which likely means new funding won’t be available until the next pay period at the earliest.
Approps materials. So it’s handy, we’ve rounded up deadlines for the FY 2023 approps season, including when Members must submit their request to committees and when the public must submit testimony to the committees. For Leg branch aficionados: we’ve got the president’s budget requests for the Leg branch and a comparison of FY 2023 requests against FY22 and FY21.
LEG BRANCH APPROPS: Architect of the Capitol
AOC. We had trouble believing our eyes when we reviewed the Architect of the Capitol’s budget request, so please take our summary with a giant grain of salt. If our analysis is correct, the AOC is requesting a whopping 113% increase in funding from FY22, from $782 Million in the enacted bill to $1.673 Billion for FY 23. How does this break down? Looking at the subaccounts:
• The biggest part of that increase is for Capitol Police Building, Grounds, and Security, which would increase an astronomical 1021% increase, from $62 Million in FY22 to $699 Million in FY23. (I guess someone is getting a new headquarters?)
• The next largest increase is for Library Buildings and Grounds, which would receive a 184% increase, from $64 Million to $183 Million.
• The Senate Buildings account would increase by 83%, from $81 Million to $150 Million. Our guess is that this reflects a plan for a new Capitol Police headquarters/ Senate office building, as we saw some hints of this in the supplemental last year. (This is pure speculation on my part.)
• The 139% increase for the Capitol Building, from $42 Million to $101 Million, is comparatively modest, and would likely fix some of the many deficiencies in health and safety.
• The House Buildings account sees a significant drop in the request for House Buildings, a $68 million decrease, which I am guessing means they think they’ll be done with a phase of the Cannon restoration.
It’s hard to be sure what we’re looking at. We are getting the numbers from the president’s budget, but the Architect has not posted their Congressional Budget Justification, which we think would go under Congressional Testimony on their website, and their written testimony for the hearing is not yet online. We are sympathetic to a large increase in funding for the Architect, which is routinely underfunded and much of the congressional complex infrastructure is crumbling. But if these are funds for a giant fence, we think such an expenditure is unwise when the core problem is the USCP’s leadership. Regardless, all agencies should routinely publish their Budget Justifications online two weeks after they are submitted to appropriators, and well before the budget hearing.
How could this work? The only way the gigantic funding requests for the Capitol Police and the Architect could possibly be granted would be to significantly increase the very tiny amount of overall funding received by the Legislative Branch, which is just shy of $6 Billion, because the only way to fund their requests in the current circumstance would be to eviscerate funding for everyone else. This points to fundamental structural deficiencies in having security and buildings competing for funding against pay for policymaking staff, and suggests a different arrangement for funding Leg branch entities would be appropriate.
As a voting member of the USCP Board, the Architect of the Capitol should be doing everything in his power to fix the dysfunctional Capitol Police, including its dysfunctional Board. We’ve been laser focused on three notable outstanding appropriations directives: creating a process for the public to request records, publishing arrest information as data, and making Capitol Police IG reports available online. AOC Blanton should also promote congressional safety by ensuring that the fire hazards, like the fire trap that is the Capitol building, are adequately addressed; that adequate COVID-19 precautions are followed in the AOC’s office and promoted in the Capitol at large; and that any findings from the campus-wide facilities assessment completed after the Jan. 6th riot are addressed in full. Demand Progress has a long list of proposed USCP reforms.
USCP transparency and oversight are particularly relevant this week following the panic over an “unidentified plane” flying in restricted airspace Wednesday night as part of a planned ceremony at Nationals Park. USCP directed an evacuation of the Capitol complex over the plane. Obviously better safe than sorry, but the failure of simple coordination with the Federal Aircraft Administration is striking. Blaming the FAA for a miscommunication doesn’t cut it for us. One would presume that the USCP’s open source information gathering efforts might have identified this as occurring?
USCP intel analysts criticize USCP intel gathering practices. Politico reported on USCP’s potentially-problematic intelligence-gathering practices that have received scrutiny ever since whistleblowers made claims that the department surveils individuals scheduled to meet with Members — and that the research is so expansive as to raise concerns.
We note concerns about waste and unethical behavior within AOC arising from two recent AOC IG reports: one substantiating reports of workforce mismanagement, and another that found the agency spent $93,764 on “unallowable costs” associated with the ongoing House Cannon Office building renovation. That project is currently $182 million over budget. The comparatively low amount of unallowable costs is considered by some to be an achievement. (We don’t have enough background to evaluate it.)
LEG BRANCH APPROPS: Library of Congress
The Library of Congress requested a 4.7% overall increase for the Library, from $838 Million to $879 Million. The Library, in its posted Congressional Budget Justification and CBJ correction, says the numbers in the president’s budget aren’t quite right, but close. We’re going to run with what we have, but you should keep that in mind. We note a requested 6.5% increase for LC salaries and expenses, from $550 Million to $586 Million. The Congressional Research Service requested a 3% increase in funding, from $129 Million to $133 Million.
What is happening at the LC? CRS has yet to publish on its website its annual reports for 2021 or 2022, and when we used a FOIA-like process to request CRS’s annual report from the Library earlier this year, we were told “the reports are not ready for publication” and “there is not a definitive publication date” for the FY 2020 report. The Library of Congress hasn’t published its annual report since 2020, either. Lemon, it’s FY 2023. Testimony from the Librarian of Congress, CRS Director, and several others have been published by the Approps subcommittee.
The Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service, the Law Library of Congress, and other entities inside the Library are important to our democracy because they are a gateway for information about Congress for congressional, journalists, academics, civil society, and the general public. While some components of the Library have fully embraced this mission — it’s a Library, after all — others have proven more reluctant. Demand Progress has made several appropriations requests for the Library to increase what it makes publicly available and to improve how it is made available. For example:
⟶ The Library should improve public access to all CRS Reports and ensure the reports are published in user-friendly formats that can be read of different types of devices. Congress directed CRS to publish many of its non-confidential reports back in 2018 and encouraged the Library to continue to expand publication of those reports not specifically included in the 2018 law. Instead, the Library is not moving to publish all its CRS reports online and is publishing current reports only in PDF format, even though they’re internally published as HTML. Public access to CRS reports is important — that’s why Congress directed the Library to act — and we don’t understand how many additional acts of Congress are required for the Library to take the hint.
⟶ The Library should commit to holding public meetings at least annually about its legislative information holdings. Appropriators directed that two such meetings occur, the virtual public forums were held, but the Library won’t commit to holding more even as they praise the utility of the conversations. Nor will they make available their report that evaluates what they thought of the public’s requests, even though we asked and FOIA’d for them. We and others have raised the issue of continuing the conversation at LC public fora for the past two years, and if the Library won’t make the commitment to keep talking, then Appropriators should help them along.
⟶ LC should establish a public-facing API, or application programming interface, so that members of the public can request specific legislative data from the Library. The Library already uses API to share information with other Leg branch entities, and there’s crucial information on the API that’s not available to the public in a useful format. Other Leg branch entities, like GPO, have an excellent API for legislative data, and the Library should too.
We aren’t negative about what’s happening at the Library. We note in particular the fantastic efforts at the Law Library of Congress to publish its foreign law reports online, the ongoing digitization, in collaboration with GPO, of the serial set, which are records of committee proceedings, and the good folks at Congress.gov continue to add enhancements to that website.
There are a few interesting items to note in the testimony submitted by the Library and CRS. But the testimony is so cursory and high level that it is difficult to say what is happening. We know that there are significant workforce issues and that CRS has not embraced telework in the way that the Library has. We know that there are some interesting technology projects happening behind the scenes. But so much of this could benefit from collaboration with public stakeholders, who could share ideas on how to implement faster and be a source of expertise.
In the meantime, we will continue to engage with all the relevant stakeholders through the excellent work of the Bulk Data Task Force; through the work of our civil society coalition, the Congressional Data Coalition; and by building projects like EveryCRSReport, which publishes all the CRS reports we can find and in more useful formats than CRS; and BillMap, which shows how legislative ideas show up in legislation across the same Congress and over multiple Congresses.
LEG BRANCH APPROPS: Government Publishing Office
The Government Publishing Office requested a 5.7% increase, from $124 Million to $130 Million. Written testimony is not yet online on the Committee’s website, but GPO has published its FY 2023 Congressional Budget Justification. (It’s a little sticky to use, but GPO has tons of information about its activities on its congressional relations website.) We note that GPO generally does not increase its budget request and the request reflected here is pretty modest. Much of the agency’s work is paid for by those who use it to publish documents. We note in particular that the development of its composition replacement tool, xPub, should fundamentally transform the way government documents are created and updated.
GPO is one of the quietly innovative and essential federal agencies and has an expansive view of what constitutes its stakeholders. I need do no more than point you to the chapter in its budget justification entitled GPO and Open, Transparent Government. A handful of Demand Progress’s appropriations requests concern support for the modernization of how committee reports and other documents are published and the better integration of legislative branch data across the various stovepipes in the leg branch.
JUDICIAL TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Supreme Court ethics and recusals are the focus of a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing this Wednesday at 2pm, although the committee hasn’t made any information available regarding witnesses or subject matter. IIRC, there are four-ish tranches of court-related materials before the Committee: (1) Applying ethics rules (including recusals) to the Supreme Court, which is (ironically) basically a lawless institution. (2) Applying ethics and transparency rules to the federal courts generally, especially in the wake of a bunch of harassment scandals. (3) Pushing to fix PACER, the decrepit, mismanaged system by which the courts extort money from the public to overpay for access to judicial proceedings. (4) Addressing judicial security, likely by imposing unconstitutional restraints on the press and civil society’s ability to report on judicial conflicts of interest and other misbehavior.
Conflicts of interest. The House has calendared for Wednesday the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act (S. 3059), a bill that had previously passed the House in a different guise. This bill has already passed the Senate and would require federal judges to publish online their financial disclosure reports and to also regularly report their stock trades. This legislation was prompted by fantastic research by our friends at the Free Law Project, who gathered all the financial disclosures for federal judges — which were not available online and were published in the most awful formats imaginable. The Wall Street Journal used the ensuing database to identify 130 federal judges who “unlawfully ruled in cases involving companies in which they or their families held shares.” This is why, in part, you hear us harp upon the need for information to be published online and in machine-readable formats — and why you can’t always rely on the internal oversight arms of an entity, in this case, the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The Department of Justice’s Merrick Garland will testify before the CJS Appropriations subcommittees in both chambers this week: A.G. Garland will appear Thursday at 2pm in the House and Tuesday at 10am in the Senate. What we want to hear from the Attorney General is whether he will commit to proactive disclosure of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel opinions, which are a body of often secret law that undermines the will of Congress. Transparency for the final, authoritative opinions has been recommended even by legal luminaries, former members of the OLC, and even the current OLC head (when he was not in government service). Testimony from my colleague Ginger Quintero-McCall on this issue last year gives you all the background you need to know why OLC opinion transparency is essential to ensure we have a government of laws and not of Executive branch whims. We note with great favor the introduction in the Senate of the DOJ OLC Transparency Act, S. 3858, introduced by Sens. Duckworth and Leahy.
LEG BRANCH APPROPS: COIL (previously OWLC)
The Congressional Office for International Leadership, formerly known as the Open World Leadership Center, requested a flat budget of $6 Million. COIL oversees a leadership exchange program between post-Soviet countries and the US; it is distinct from the House Democracy Partnership. A hearing had been scheduled for this entity for Thursday, but we no longer see the notice online. The last Budget Justification they published on their website was for FY 2020; their last annual report was for 2020. The House did publish the FY 2021 CJ as part of its hearing report.
ODDS AND ENDS
Leaders lie about impeaching Trump. A lot is being made about Rep. McCarthy’s lying to the press when he denied he planned to tell Trump to resign in the aftermath of the Trump insurrection— a lie made more untenable when audio surfaced of him pledging to do just that. Sen. McConnell also told associates he believed Trump was responsible for inciting the Jan. 6th “riot.” Had Speaker Pelosi not waited, she probably could have gotten many more Republicans to join that impeachment vote, but she did. Not all Republicans would have done the right thing — GOP lawmakers were deeply involved in Trump’s plans to overturn the election — but I suspect many would have. Instead, Republicans closed ranks behind the big lie, thwarted a Trump insurrection commission that could outlive the current Congress, and blocked the Senate from organizing for weeks until extracting concessions that made reforms to repair our ailing democracy impossible. These choices ended any independence for the Republican party from Trumpism, compounded by later errors that made it difficult for the party to split, and shape our politics today. Those Republicans who wish to resist Trumpism, even as they swear public fealty, are waiting for a deus ex machina, as are we all.
Republicans’ term limit trial balloon. Republicans are reportedly considering imposing term limits for committee chairs and ranking members should they take the House this year, Punchbowl reports. Republicans already have a three-term limit in place; this would apply limits to Democrats as well. A rule change would not only change the calculus around Democratic leadership races significantly, but would break up the largest coalition behind Speaker Pelosi, who has traded her support for a seniority system for rock solid support for her remaining in leadership.
Legislative Branch Innovation Reports. We are extraordinarily impressed by the quarterly reports on creating standardized data formats for legislation, the status of the comparative print project, and modernizing committee tools and vote disclosure that are published on the Legislative Branch Innovation hub website. We know that writing these reports probably was not much fun, but they are very informative. We applaud the authors for their hard work and for making it possible for those of us in the cheap seats to follow along.
The FOIA Advisory Committee passed six new recommendations to the National Archivist at its recent April meeting. The new recommendations aren’t up on the recommendations dashboard yet, but five of the six relate to improving proactive disclosure of commonly requested documents, while the sixth recommends granting OGIS authority to compel agencies to release documents in disputed cases. The committee voted to make five recommendations to the Archivist at its March meeting, and will take up eight more at its May meeting.
On the Archivist, this past week I attended a reception for his retirement after a dozen years of service. I got to know AOTUS Ferriero because, for many years, he has hosted quarterly meetings for members of civil society to discuss access to government information held by his agency and the establishment of appropriate access-to-information policies. He attended all the meetings, as did his senior staff; they also routinely responded to emails and calls and did their best to engage. They weren’t in “listening mode,” but collaboration mode. The Archivist did not have to do this, and once started, he did not have to continue. But he did. At the end of the day, all you can hope for is an open, accountable government that listens to your concerns and engages in good faith to address problems that arise. It is rare when it happens, and it is notable. He will be missed.
The rates at which Members of the House and Senate left Congress between 1989 and 2020is the subject of this recent CRS report. ICYMI last week, we remain concerned that no processes are in place to identify when members no longer are mentally capable of serving in Congress, and take appropriate steps.
Whistleblower jurisdiction tool. Identify which House committee has jurisdiction over a particular type of whistleblower using this new tool from the House Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds.
Biden’s Budget was the focus of a Federal News Network broadcast that featured me, Marc Goldwein of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and William Hoagland from the Bipartisan Policy Center. Follow the link to listen online to the FedTalk Budget broadcast.
Fallon’s foul up? The House Ethics committee announced it has extended its inquiry into Rep. Pat Fallon, who may have violated congressional stock trading rules by belatedly disclosing millions of dollars’ worth of stock trades. House Admin held a hearing on the various proposals to reform the STOCK Act a few weeks back; our summary of the STOCK Act hearing notes the need to ban congressional stock ownership altogether as part of a broader slate of reforms.
A case seeking to disqualify Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from seeking reelection on the grounds of her involvement in the insurrection can proceed, a federal judge ruled last week. A challenge to Rep. Madison Cawthorne’s candidacy in North Carolina on similar grounds was thrown out in early March. Apparently, Rep. Greene’s memory is going and she doesn’t remember the lead-up to Jan 6th. How odd.
A Research Analyst to work on Hill diversity and other issues is sought by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Apply by May 9 to the Joint Center.
STEM policy fellowship. The Lincoln Network is accepting applications through May 2nedfor the Endless Frontier Fellowship, a “year long, early-career program designed to train the next generation of policy entrepreneurs working at the forefront of science and innovation.”
• Department of Justice budget request hearing before Senate CJS approps subcommittee Tuesday at 10.
• Library of Congress budget request hearing before House Leg Branch Approps Wednesday at 10.
• Government Publishing Office budget request hearing before House Leg Branch Approps Wednesday at 11.
• Supreme Court Ethics and Recusals hearing before a House Judiciary subcommittee Wednesday at 2.
• AOC budget request hearing before House Leg Branch Approps Wednesday at 2
• Modernizing the Legislative Process that Transforms a Bill into a Law hearing before the House Modernization Committee Thursday at 10.
• Department of Justice budget request hearing before House CJS approps subcommittee Thursday at at 2.
• House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress and CQ Roll Call are hosting a conversation about the ModCom and where and its recommendations stand as it enters its final year.
Down the road
AAPI roundtable. The House Office of Diversity and Inclusion will observe Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a roundtable discussion about the AAPI voice in politics on May 4 at 12 PM.
Legislative tech throughout the Americas is the subject of an upcoming Bússola Tech conference on May 5 and 6. Stay tuned for registration info.