Welcome back. The Senate is in today; the House is back tomorrow. On the House floor, a resolution to allow House staff to unionize will be brought to a vote later this week. Senate Leg branch approps has started its hearings, with the Architect, CBO, and Senate SAA on Wednesday; House FSGG approps will hear from the federal judiciary on Thursday and hold a member day hearing on Friday.
TREATING STAFF LIKE PEOPLE
Overview. This week had a ton of good news for Congressional staff. A vote is set to adopt Rep. Levin’s resolution that would afford many House political and non-political staff the opportunity to organize into a union. Speaker Pelosi issued a pay order that will require, by September 1, that all House staff be paid no less than $45,000 annually. And Speaker Pelosi increased the maximum pay a staffer can earn to $203,700, from $199,300, an amount identical to the top rate for Senate staff. The minimum pay levels and pay order enjoys strong bipartisan support, and rightly so. Last week Reps. Hoyer and Jeffries sent an excellent letter calling for COLAs for political offices and a wide range of improved staff benefits. And, lest we forget, the House Modernization Committee has advanced scores of recommendations to improve legislative operations. This House is on track to improve the working conditions for its staff in the 117th Congress more than Congress has over the last three decades combined.
Staff unionization?! Rep. Levin’s resolution to allow House staff to unionize will be brought to the floor for a vote this week, probably on Wednesday or Thursday. The resolution applies to political and non-political staff in the House of Representatives and affords them the opportunity to organize under the Congressional Accountability Act. The CAA was the first law promulgated in 1995, when the “Republican Revolution” swept Congress and one stated goal was to apply to Congress the same laws that apply to American businesses, an effort that had been brewing for almost a decade. However, the House at the time did not act to fully apply the CAA’s provisions. Recently, the Office of Congressional Workplaces Rights Board unanimously recommended that the House allow staff to unionize per that law. Under its provisions, no one would be compelled to join a union, and bargaining units likely would be organized on an office-by-office basis. Congress already has unions under the CAA, such as for the Capitol Police, Architect of the Capitol, and the Capitol Guide Service. Under the CAA and other legal authorities, there are about 20 existing collective bargaining units in the Legislative branch, including inside the House itself.
Who can unionize? The list is pretty extensive. It includes personal, committee, and leadership staff. (Note that it does not include managers, supervisors, or confidential employees — and who is swept up in those terms would be decided by the OCWR on a case-by-case basis.) It also includes some offices within the Office of the Clerk, the Office of the Legislative Counsel, the Office of the General Counsel, the Office of the Parliamentarian, and the Office of the Law Revision Counsel. It includes caucus and party organization staff. It also includes the Office of House Employment Counsel, the immediate offices of the Clerk, CAO, and Sergeant at Arms. The original law made an uneven split between political and non-political offices, leaving out many non-political staff, and this resolution will address inequities where some non-political staff can unionize and others cannot.
Who is left out? The CAA took a bifurcated approach to unionization, where it attempted to create different processes for political and non-political staff. As a result, Senate political and some non-political staff were not covered by automatic promulgation of unionization regulations and the Senate must pass a resolution to put the law’s provisions into effect for them. In addition, a number of joint staff, notable at the CBO and the OCWR, were omitted from the automatic promulgation of the unionization regulations, and would require a joint resolution to be covered. Demand Progress has published draft language to extend protections to joint staff.
What can be bargained over? There is a lot of confusion on this topic. The only mandatory subject of bargaining are “terms and conditions of employment,” i.e., personnel practices, policies, and matters affecting workplace conditions, according to OCWR general counsel John Uelman. You cannot mandate bargaining on the substance of matters that are contrary to law or fall within the scope of management rights, such as determining mission, budget, organization, number of employees, internal security, job assignments, etc. However, you can compel bargaining over the procedures by which management wishes to exercise a right, including the ones described above. And while bargaining cannot be compelled on the matters listed above, employers and employees can voluntarily bargain over anything that is not set by law. Disputes over the scope of what employees can force employers to negotiate over will be adjudicated by the OCWR. We note that, unlike in the private sector, staff cannot go on strike in the event of a dispute.
Our view. Unsurprisingly, Demand Progress commended the effort to allow House staff to unionize, having submitted testimony before Leg branch approps in 2021 and testimony for House Admin in 2022 calling for exactly this to happen. We laud the efforts of the Congressional Workers Union to organize and push for unionization, the efforts of Rep. Levin to introduce and move a unionizing resolution, the fact that nearly half of the Members of the House have co-sponsored the resolution, the hard work of Rep. Lofgren to oversee and move the process forward, and those in House leadership as well as civil society organizations and labor leaders from across the country who have spoken out in support of giving staff a seat at the table.
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Not only were Republicans responsible for pushing the CAA, which originated as H.R. 1 and passed the House unanimously, but key Republicans, such as Sen. Grassley, bemoaned the House’s inaction specifically on letting its political staff unionize in a law review entitled Practicing What We Preach, calling it “a disgrace to the principles supporting the CAA” and vowing to continue to work on the effort. More recently, some congressional Republicans have indicated support for allowing non-political staff to unionize but not political staff. I don’t see why political staff shouldn’t have the choice; regardless, the resolution applies to a large number of non-political staff and a “no” vote is a vote against better working conditions for staff, which are absolutely necessary.
Case in point. Look no further than Rep. Victoria Spartz, profiled in Politico by Olivia Beavers. Her former staff told Politico “she frequently yells and curses at aides, belittling her staff’s intelligence and berating them in front of others.” Four staffers left her office this month — she had the highest turnover rate in 2021 — and was described as an “unpredictable boss whose temper can rocket from tepid to boiling.” It is rare for the press to be able to tell this kind of story, which is why the Dear White Staffers instagram account is so valuable, and unions are traditionally the remedy for workers when faced with gross mistreatment.
Coda. The OCWR will testify this week before the Senate Leg branch appropriations subcommittee. In testimony before the House on April 5th, responding to a question from Rep. Espaillat, the office said it would need another $500k and two FTEs to support unionization in the House. We’ll be looking to see if they’ve updated their top line number from $7.5 Million to $8 Million in light of this necessity. Also, the OCWR did not publish their congressional budget justification online but, in response to a question from Rep. Newhouse, the OCWR said they would be open to doing so. More than a month later, it does not appear that they’ve published that document on their website.
APPROPS BIG PICTURE
Update your calendar. Stay up to date with member and public witness testimony deadlines with our approps tracker. Some updates: the deadline to request to submit written testimony before Senate Leg branch approps is May 27th; the House FSGG deadline is May 30th. Members who want to testify before House Leg branch approps must tell the subcommittee today. Senate appropriations requests are largely due last week and this week, with a few dates up until May 27th.
In person testimony. We applaud House Labor HHS, which just announced it will hold a virtual in-person public witness hearing. Pre-pandemic, nearly all the House appropriations subcommittees allowed members of the public to testify in person upon request. This invaluable opportunity to have 5 minutes to make your case in person is probably the best form of direct committee engagement with public stakeholders that I have seen, but nearly all the subcommittees stopped the practice at the start of the pandemic and did not move to virtual hearings, except for Labor HHS (and, I think, Interior.) I think the reason is that some members wanted to hold these as hybrid proceedings, but there aren’t enough congressional rooms to do so while respecting COVID protocols. They would have been fine as fully virtual meetings: their absence is a big missed opportunity for appropriators and the public.
Senate approps video. The Senate, which to my knowledge does not afford stakeholders the opportunity to testify in person before appropriators, has another unusual practice: its subcommittee markups are not webcast with video. Yes, that’s right, it’s like an old timey radio program except you can’t tell what’s going on. During COVID, the hearings and (I believe) the markups have been webcast with video, which is a welcome change. Will the Senate revert to form or will it continue to broadcast video of the markups? I certainly hope so.
A plug. Still looking for some good approps requests for a discerning member? Demand Progress has a list of draft approps request ideas.
It was a big week for USCP-related news, none of which inspired confidence and all of which will be top of mind heading into Wednesday’s Senate Leg branch approps AOC and Senate SAA hearings.
GAO’s report on open source intelligence and Jan 6th was just made publicly available, although the agency published a version only for Congressionals back in February. The GAO’s public-facing report found all 10 selected agencies who have roles in countering domestic terrorism — including the Capitol Police, the House Sergeant at Arms, and the Senate Sergeant at Arms — were aware of open source data about planned events on Jan 6th, and seven were aware of potential violence planned. (I hate to be that guy, but I’ve got a Twitter thread that goes through the report.)
• GAO said its investigation was hampered by agency failures to maintain records of searches of open source intelligence, which GAO said will be the focus of a forthcoming report. Our oversight was hampered as this report had information redacted at the request of some of the agencies, claiming it is CUI. This over-withholding of information by agencies is both common and counterproductive, especially as we could figure out what was redacted because we had read about it in other public reports. (We are looking at the Leg support agencies that clearly made some of these requests.) We applaud GAO’s strong pro-disclosure policies and urge them to push back on these claims when the info is already in the public record, or should be.
• One of the most sickening findings was that the Proud Boys planned to disable the fire suppression systems in the Capitol. As you know, there aren’t adequate sprinklers in the Capitol and the Architect testified that workable fire suppression systems won’t be in place until at least FY 25. (More on that below.) If the Proud Boys had started a fire, it would have been a mass casualty event.
• Leg branch tie-in: With the Architect and the Senate Sergeant at Arms testifying this week, maybe they will be asked about the sprinklers in the Capitol and when that will be resolved, the AOC’s inappropriate decision to not publish the entirety of its Congressional Budget Justification on the absurd basis that it is classified (more on this below), and whether/ the lawful basis on which they insisted the GAO withhold information from its report.
Security contractors. The Capitol Police have hammered home the mantra that they do not have enough officers to secure the Capitol, rightly bemoaning the hours of mandatory overtime. We note the ~$50m annual costs for overtime. Putting aside the issue of leadership and management of those resources, assurances about the hiring process, and the extraordinarily large size of the Capitol Police, it is evident the USCP cannot staff up to levels they say they need over the next few years, especially with attrition after the Trump insurrection. In response, the Capitol Police Board informed lawmakers they would hire unarmed security contractors, who reported to work on May 2nd. The Capitol Police union attacked the move, saying the security guards would not be trained to USCP standards. As the lack of training to appropriate standards for the USCP is one of the key issues with the USCP force — a lack that we attribute to management failures over the decades — so this is not a persuasive argument to us, especially if the staff are used in less sensitive areas. Nonetheless, employing contractors raises concerns around accountability, transparency, and labor issues, as we’ve seen with the House and Senate dining workers over the past decade.
A Capitol Police officer discharged their gun in the Cannon House Office building, RollCall reported. The officer has been suspended while the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigates, per USCP.
APPROPS: Architect of the Capitol
AOC’s budget request hearing (video, written testimony) before House Approps featured testimony from Architect Blanton on AOC’s (gigantic) requested increase in funding from FY 22, essentially doubling funding from $782 Million in the enacted bill to $1.673 Billion for FY 23. Blanton will testify before the Senate Leg branch approps subcommittee on Wednesday at 10 AM. We hope the Architect has come up with answers and information concerning the questions that were not adequately addressed at the April 27th proceedings.
We had a hard time evaluating the AOC’s request. The written testimony has essentially no details on the proposed $1.6 Billion in spending. Nor did the AOC publish its Congressional Budget Justification, which are its plans for what it would do with appropriated funds. In fact, when Rep. Newhouse asked where the CBJ is posted, Blanton said the AOC would not publish it because $600 Million of it is security related. This is, frankly, unacceptable. Federal agencies publish their CBJs, including agencies with security missions. OMB Circular A-11 section 22.6 requires federal agencies to publish, within two weeks of submission, the entire document except for materials where “disclosure is prohibited by statute, the materials are classified or must be kept secret in the interest of national security or foreign policy.” See, for example, the DOD’s FY 2023 CJB. OMB directives don’t apply to the Legislative branch, but House Appropriators routinely publish the CBJs after the fact, although the Senate does not. See, e.g., the CBJs for FY 2021 (including the AOC as p. 347). For more on CBJs, see these two new reports from CRS re: online availability of budget documents and a précis of CBJs.
Dodging Capitol Security Oversight. The Architect of the Capitol serves on the Capitol Police Board, which sets policy for and oversees the USCP. Rep. Espaillat asked the Architect about why the Capitol Police/Board have not implemented Appropriators directives in FY 2021 and FY 2022 bills to create a process for the public to request records, to publish the USCP’s Inspector General reports online, and to publish arrest information. Astonishingly, the Architect said he would have to take up the matter with the Capitol Police and could not speak for them, and that he wanted to coordinate the answer with the Capitol Police Chief. (The Chief, at least in theory, answers to the Board, so has the Board been inattentive to these issues?) The Architect serves on the Board and has responsibility for making sure these matters are addressed, including sharing his views when asked by appropriators.
Transparency. The Architect had previously raised concerns about excessive secrecy and overclassification by the Capitol Police Board. (The Capitol Police Board lacks the power to classify matters, which is a whole other issue.) In response to a question from RM Herrera Beutler on addressing needless secrecy, the Architect said the Board made monumental improvements w/r/t coordination across the entities, and said that he has a sense the Board wants to be as transparent as possible. I don’t know how that possibly can be squared in light of answers on unimplemented approps directives and the non-release of the CBJ.
Fire trap. RM Herrera Beutler also raised the concern about the lack of sprinklers in the Capitol. The money that appropriators provided in FY 2022, $6.8 Million, went towards designing where sprinklers should go in the 1st and 3rd floors. The Architect indicated it would take 1.5 years to complete the design and that the fixes to the sprinklers would not be requested until FY 2025. As the RM said, “we just have to hope a fire doesn’t start?” Gulp.
The only good news is that the Architect will now have a building official that reviews every project for code compliance. Further, when renovations are done, those renovations will address issues from family restrooms to ADA compliance.
In previous years we were impressed by the Architect’s obvious desire to professionalize support for the Capitol complex and undo what seems like a historically haphazard approach to management and a severe underfunding for necessary work that has stressed the Capitol complex to the breaking point. We are interested in the development of the Capitol Complex Master Plan and supportive of making the “Building Official” program to apply the same set of building codes and permitting across the campus. We have trepidation around the necessary removal of asbestos in the Rayburn Building hallway ceilings and are alarmed by the need to repair the utility tunnels under the campus to avoid tunnel failure and the interruption of electrical and other services for an extended period. More transparency around the challenges and what is planned would improve our comfort level with the funding request even as we acknowledge that the AOC has been underfunded for so long that we’ve reached a crisis point.
ICYMI, Demand Progess’s approps recommendations for AOC include 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. Demand Progress also has long standing concerns about Capitol safety, particularly fire danger, and of course has its laundry list of proposed reforms for USCP and its Board.
What’s next? The Architect is testifying before the Senate Leg branch approps committee this week. We hope that members will pick up on these threads — or that the Architect proactively addresses the issues.
APPROPS: Senate Sergeant at Arms
The Senate SAA has requested a 10% increase to $108.6 Million for FY 2023; the Office of the SAA and Doorkeeper of the Senate requests a 12% increase to $170 Million. We have yet to see the testimony or congressional budget justification. As the Senate does not routinely publish the CBJ, we are unsure if we ever will. The SAA hearing is Wednesday.
What does the SAA do? In addition to serving as the chief Senate law enforcement officer and managing protocol, the SAA “is responsible for all Senate computers and technology support services, recording and photographic services, printing and graphics services, and telecommunications services. The SAA also provides assistance to all Senate offices with their staffing, mailing, purchasing, and financial needs.”
The Senate SAA is a voting member of the USCP Board and as such should take an active role in improving transparency and accountability within the USCP Board and policy department. Demand Progress has many recommendations for modernizing USCP, listed above.
Demand Progress has two more appropriations recommendations pertaining to the Senate SAA: the SAA should look into creating a central repository for Senate committee hearing and markup videos and begin publishing senators’ official personnel and official expense account reports as data.
APPROPS: Library of Congress
The Library of Congress was the focus of a House Leg Branch Appropriations hearing (video, written testimony) recently. The Library is requesting $824.9 Million in funding for FY 2023, a 3.9% increase over last year’s enacted level and $7.2 Million less than the level stated in the president’s budget request. (LOC noted this discrepancy in its posted CBJ and CBJ correction.)
The Library’s written testimony highlighted its top priority as expanding user access. Information Technology remains an issue, with the Library moving to the Cloud and/or off the Capitol Hill campus. Its digital collections require 26 petabytes of storage. The Library has “fundamentally rebuilt our technology foundation… stabilized our operations and … are moving to a model of continuous innovation,” although the Library must still “mature its IT planning.” There appears to be an unsuccessful or outmoded effort to modernize the CRS’s Integrated Research and Information System for authorizing, publishing, content management, and congressional relations, so more work needs to be done there and $4 Million more has been requested for this project. In addition, the Library’s personnel and payroll systems are antiquated and unintegrated with other systems, and must be updated.
CRS, in its written testimony, seems to suggest that more needs to be done to capture tacit knowledge held by senior staff, in what I am inferring must be a consequence of turnover and potentially a wave of retirements. We already know some of its components, such as the American Law Division, suffered such high turnover to effectively wipe out the majority of its more experienced staff. There are a number of technology initiatives glossed over in the written testimony, such as redesigning CRS.gov, report authoring and management, and the Text Analysis Program (which relates to bill text comparisons). We are pleased to see a brief mention of CRS’s collaboration with data partners to modernize legislative data interchanges — we know there are non-public APIs where these exchanges happen, and some of the data on it should be publicly available. We also note the updating of the Constitution Annotated, long a hobbyhorse of ours to get it published online, and now that it is we wonder whether it is cost appropriate to continue to print the physical document.
Ranking Member Herrera Beutler asked whether the Library would commit to holding annual public meetings on public access to legislative data on an ongoing basis. The Library began holding those hearings at Congress’s direction and previously would not answer questions about whether it would hold proceedings absent congressional pressure. Fortunately, Dr. Hayden said the Library plans to hold a meeting this fall, but did not commit beyond that. The Library was concerned about a drop off in public participation. We would encourage the Library to co-create the agenda with the public, to reduce the several hours of presentations before public interaction can occur, and to be willing to share its recommendations about what it can implement with the public.
Demand Progress’s perennial recommendation for LOC to ensure public access to all CRS reports did not come up, nor did creating a public-facing API, but you can rest assured we will continue to raise the issue. Congress directed the Library to make all CRS reports publicly available in the FY 2018 appropriations bill, but the Library has only partially delivered and stated it won’t act absent congressional direction, which it has already received.
APPROPS: Congressional Budget Office
The CBO is requesting $64.6 Million for FY 2023 — a 6% increase from FY 2022 levels, which would add 7 new staff and provide a 4.6% across the board increase for employees earning less than $100k. You can read CBO’s congressional budget justification for yourself here; find video of the House CBO hearing here; and read Director Phillip Swagel’s House testimony here.
How CBO obtains information, and barriers thereto, was the focus on an excellent question from RM Herrera Beutler. CBO explained it obtains data from three dozen agencies for non-public data and can face challenges in getting the agreements in place. Challenges arise in particular with fast moving legislation, where it can be hard to obtain data from agencies, as well as that the data is often kept at the agencies and remote access can be complex. We note that how Legislative branch agencies access information was the focus of an excellent ModCom hearing last November that explored this issue as well.
Disclosure of conflicts of interest by CBO’s panels of experts was the topic of another question from RM Herrera Beutler, who asked why CBO is not publishing online the forms annually submitted by its advisors that disclose substantial political activities and financial interests (although those forms are available for access in a limited fashion upon request). CBO explained the records are available upon request and that requesters can use screen capture to save some of the information. From personal experience, this is annoying and time consuming to do. Director Swagel said he was unsure what the agency would do after the pandemic and said the disclosure-ish system was modeled after Congress. In fact, Congress is now disclosing Member financial disclosure information online — go to the Clerk’s website and hit control+f for “search reports” — so perhaps the CBO should update its processes to at least match what the House is doing. (We do applaud them for finding a workaround in the COVID era.) We previously wrote about the mechanism by which the public can access CBO’s conflict of interest forms, including reviewing CBO’s disclosure system.
In terms of staff retention, the top issue for CBO is child care. CBO needs more spots for its analysts, particularly for parents of kids 0-4. CBO cited it does have more flexibility with hybrid operations, but is requiring staff to come back in about 2.5 days per week, which it has been phasing in. Director Swagel is a believer that “in person is better,” but perhaps there are lessons they could learn from GPO on that point.
At Thursday’s upcoming appropriations hearing on the Judiciary before the House FSGG subcommittee, we’ll be paying attention to whether important judicial transparency measures get some airtime. Given the witnesses, we are very interested in the court’s efforts to slow walk PACER reform — whereby court orders published on an expensive and antiquated website behind a paywall would become available to all in a modern system and at no cost to the public. This is a huge priority for civil society, practitioners, academics, and the public. We are also interested in how the courts will implement the new law, the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, merely awaiting J.B’s signature, which requires online disclosure of judicial financial information and stock trades.
We expect a lot of questions on leaks, which is just a waste of time, to be honest. (Nevertheless, leaks investigations over get aimed at journalists, which is why Congress should finally move the PRESS Act, a bipartisan bill to establish a “federal statutory privilege to protect journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources and prevent federal law enforcement from abusing subpoena power.” 49 states have such protections.) The Supreme Court leaks all the time and I’m pretty confident they don’t want any of that investigated. Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern get it right in Slate: the real scandal is the absence of modernization, transparency, and professionalism at the Supreme Court specifically and in federal courts generally, and the leak is just a head fake. And the tragedy is the fundamentally illiberal nature of the Supreme Court, minority control of the Senate that has fueled this illiberalism, and that we’re in a new Lochner era built around fundamentally anti-democratic principles.
APPROPS: Government Publishing Office
GPO’s budget request hearing (video, written testimony) featured testimony from Director Hugh Halpern on the agency’s requested 5.7% increase for FY 2023, from $124 Million to $130 Million. (GPO’s budget justification is here.) This is only the second time in the last decade GPO has requested a funding increase, Chair Ryan noted. We learned the request is partially due to supply chain issues and increased costs for paper (20-30% more than a year ago). Director Halpern also addressed the agency’s request for $12.7 Million in direct appropriations for the GPO revolving fund, some of which would support xPub, next generation composition software. Halpern spoke about the agency’s recovery from setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic, including financial setbacks and major bill backlogs. In May 2021, GPO had 1,800 bills stuck in its processing unit, which took several months to process. GPO is now back to its normal service level: turnaround for normal bills is one week; priority items can be processed overnight.
We note GPO’s successes in workforce management, recognized by Forbes this year as one of the nation’s best midsize employers. GPO has implemented excellent telework and remote policies that have made hiring and retaining staff much easier and they become quite good at onboarding people who have never been in DC. (Perhaps this is a lesson that a few other Leg branch agencies could learn.)
Before we forget: GPO is hiring recent grads to work on initiatives like publishing terabytes of government information, modernizing legislative data, and building clever research and drafting technology. It’s a good chance to serve the country, too.
Creating a Digital Federal Depository Library Program and streamlining formatting of bills and resolutions via USLM were two important modernization programs raised during the Q&A. Per Halpern, a report from GPO, LOC, and the federal library system on the need for an all-digital depository system will be out by the end of the calendar year. In his update on USLM, Halpern stated that GPO hopes to deliver the xPub system to the House and Senate by the end of the year as well. GPO discussion at the hearing presaged the following day’s ModCom hearing on modernizing the legislative process.
Modernizing the Legislative Process was the topic of a House ModCom hearing (video, written testimony). Legislative nerds rejoice! Witnesses included all-stars from several Congressional support offices, including Hugh Halpern of Government Publishing Office, Noah Wofsy of the House Legislative Counsel Office, and Kevin McCumber of the House Office of the Clerk. The hearing was excellent.You really should read their written testimony, too.
GPO’s Halpern describes how a bill makes it into print, pointing out that our founders made a big mistake when they decided to write legislation as if it were instructions to an unseen clerk. That process doesn’t scale, and it’s made worse by different legislative drafting styles: appropriations are written differently from authorizing bills, etc. Moreover, the print version of congressional documents still reflect the priorities of 1861, when GPO was established, which is to be printed as economically on the technology of that time as possible, and it is time to fundamentally rethink what our legislative document looks like so they can be more engaging and easy to read.
Leg Counsel Wofsy’s testimony is great fun, and he explains how the experts at leg counsel develop deep expertise in areas of law and that are available to consult even on outlines of bill ideas to turn them into legislative text. His plan to increase their capacity includes: (1) increasing the number of attorneys, which is dependent on pay, benefits, and flexibility work environments (e.g., telework); (2) expanding education provided to House members and providing a guide to staffers on what questions to anticipate when contacting his office — he probably should create modules for lobbyists, too; (3) improving legislative technology to aid with drafting. Just a note, friends: don’t use PDF software to edit draft legislation, because it messes everything up (and doesn’t change the underlying code, which is what they use.)
Deputy Clerk McCumber does a great job laying out the role of the Clerk of the House and the process by which a bill gets over to GPO. Did you know engrossing clerks produce a paper version of a bill on the floor, literally inserting amendments into the bills? Or that enrolling clerks read aloud each word and character of a bill, comparing the digital version to the print version, which can take hours and, for lengthy bills, days? His office has ideas to improving member and committee workflows. They include (1) building new tools for collaborative drafting; (2) a shared portal to manage legislative and related activities, from managing cosponsor requests to introducing legislation to looking up voting records and filing financial disclosure reports; and (3) improving committee process, perhaps by creating a central portal to communicate meeting information, prepare for committee meetings, and facilitate electronic submission of committee reports and materials.
Our biggest takeaways: (1) The increased salary cap has done wonders for retention; (2) Leg counsel staff capacity hasn’t kept pace with the increase in legislative drafting; (3) telework policies are working well for these support offices; and (4) improved technology is on its way, fueled by the movement to new standards and processes for managing legislative information; (5) now is the time to think about what processes should be updated for the modern era.
The salary cap increase has made a tremendous difference for staff retention, especially for senior staff, who for years were maxed out at the top of the pay scale, according to Wofsy. During the Q&A period, Vice Chair Timmons mentioned the recent 50% increase in legislative drafting requests over the past decade (32,000 to 48,000). Wofsy is working to staff up, but it takes years for staff to become expert.
We learned 100% of the Leg Counsel office utilizes some sort of telework policy, with many attorneys working remotely at least twice a week and several attorneys working outside of the beltway.
Multiple members asked about the feasibility of remote voting in committees. Halpern said remote committee votes are feasible to implement and discussed his experiences with the Natural Resources Committee, which has such a system. He explained there are many off-the-shelf technologies to accomplish this. We note that the House Admin Committee issued a staff report explaining how remote voting on the floor can be kept secure, which has obvious connections to electronic voting in the committees (remote or otherwise). A key issue here is that voting in committees can eat up a lot of time through traditional methods, and it may be wise to speed it up. Regardless, if an electronic voting system is implemented, the data standards it uses should be compatible with the rest of the House’s data systems.
Voting on the House floor. Should members still be using a card to vote on the House floor or perhaps something more sophisticated, such as voting on your phone and have it use facial recognition ID? What about in an emergency, where one cannot vote on the floor? (There are mobile electronic voting systems that still require use of the card.) Reference was also made to some members who inappropriately give their voting card to others and how do we authenticate that the voter is a member. The House’s electronic voting system is more than 40 years old, although it has been upgraded. It would be possible to allow member office staff to get electronic information in real time about whether their boss has voted on a particular measure. (It also would be possible to make that information available to the public in real time, but I think I may be the only person who would want that to happen. However, having the vote totals reported in real time would probably make a lot of people happy.)
If you made it this far into this newsletter, congratulations. It’s been a lot to write. You can always hit reply and let me know what you think.
ODDS AND ENDS
The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, legislation you know that we love, has been placed on the Senate calendar and the HSGAC committee report on S. 2838 is now available. The legislation, now with some exceptions, requires (1) the creation of a list of all reports required by law to be submitted to Congress, (2) the online publication of the reports due to Congress that could otherwise be obtained through a FOIA request.
The Internet Code Improvement Commission has a new series of seven videos on how edicts of government are disseminated: law librarian Leslie Street on the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act; myself on efforts in the federal government to make data more available; Ed Walters of Fastcase on scraping state regulations and legislative codes; Amanda Dunn of GPO on GovInfo; Fred Dingledy on the history of codification and promulgation; Sara Frug and Sylvia Kwakye of Cornell’s Legal Information Institute on the definitive site for Supreme Court opinions, the CFR, the USC, and more; and David Halperin on legal considerations pertaining to edicts of government.
New Congress.gov updates include direct links to contact your Member of Congress and improved committee profile alert emails.
2021 was another dark year for press freedoms, according to the Reporters Committee’s annual review. Of the 144 assaults on journalists in 2021, 18 occurred during the Capitol riot.
Continuity of Congress is the topic of the latest Lawfare podcast episode.
How whistleblowers and IGs work together is the subject of the Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds’s new fact sheet.
STAFFING AND TRANSITIONS
WOC senior staff. There should be around three times as many women of color in senior congressional staff roles if we want staff composition to roughly match the general population, Axios reports. Reminder: personnel determines policy. Beyond the labor concerns raised by this lack of diversity, we should also consider how homogeneous (white, male) staff shape policy for the country as a whole.
Former Members of Congress employed as congressional staff. Two former Members are currently employed as congressional staffers and another just departed his post as a senior staffer on the Jan. 6th committee, LegiStorm reports.
David Ferriero, In an exit interview with C-SPAN, called for a diverse pool of nominees to be considered to replace him as Archivist of the United States and noted there may be a bitter confirmation process ahead. Late Friday, a coalition of civil society organizations sent a letter on what they’re looking for in the next AOTUS.
Rep. Antonio Delgado will leave Congress to serve as New York State’s new lieutenant governor, Gov. Hochul announced last week.
Senate dining workers’ contracts are in the Senate’s hands. After narrowly averting layoffs last month, the Senate dining workers’ union has reached an agreement to raise pay and improve benefits with their employer, the federal contractor Restaurant Associates. But that contract won’t go into effect until the Senate renegotiates its own contract with Restaurant Associates. The union is calling for a renegotiated, fee-for-service model contract by May 18. On Wednesday, 26 senators wrote to the AOC and Restaurant Associates in support of the workers.
The AOC, Senate SAA, and CBO will testify on their budget requests before the Senate Approps Legislative Branch subcommittee on Wednesday at 10 AM.
The Judiciary’s FY 2023 budget request will be considered by the House FSGG Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday at 10 AM.