This week. Happy Memorial Day recess—both chambers are out this week, giving us (and hopefully you, too) a chance to take a break, or at least slow down.
Approps. We were expecting Senate Leg branch approps hearing with the USCP, GAO, and Library of Congress last week, but it was postponed. Stay tuned.
• Approps timeline. Here is our list of deadlines to submit appropriations requests and testimony. According to Bloomberg government ($): in the House expect June markups teeing up July floor votes; in the Senate expect markups in July and early August. The Senate timeline will depend heavily on whether senior Appropriators reach an agreement on the top line spending numbers for defense (wartime) and non-defense (peacetime) spending. Summer recess is currently scheduled to start July 29 (House) and August 5 (Senate).
• More appropriations. It’s possible there will be more supplemental appropriations bills, and of course there’s the upcoming markup of the (authorizing) National Defense Authorization Act, which means the calendar could go sideways.
• Earmarks? Appropriations bills could contain significantly more earmark requests than last year’s, and more people are requesting earmarks, according to Roll Call, although the total amount is kept as a constant percentage of federal discretionary spending.
Unionization timeline clarified. OCWR published a statement that regulations allowing House staff to unionize will go into effect on July 18, 2022 (not July 15, as we wrote last week). The regulations were published on May 16, 2022. The OCWR has the authority to shorten that time period for “good cause,” an authority it thus far has declined to exercise.
Next week. We’re planning on taking a week off from the newsletter, unless of course something big happens. Send us your tips!
House Sergeant-at-Arms opposes lawmakers carrying guns in the Capitol complex. One day after the horrifying elementary school shooting that caused the deaths of 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, House SAA Walker finally responded to Majority Leader Hoyer’s repeated requests for clarification on the Capitol complex gun regulations. In his response, SAA Walker states his view that “the Capitol Complex should be a place where no one carries a firearm unless they are actively engaged in law enforcement” or other official “protection work.” But, he adds “regrettably, my position on this matter is not shared by all stakeholders.” Is he referring obliquely to other members of the Capitol Police Board: the Senate Sergeant at Arms, the Architect of the Capitol, and the Capitol Police Chief (an ex officio member)? There are stories of Members carrying firearms into the chambers, where they are prohibited by law, and Members are known to keep firearms on Capitol hill.
Insecurity. We cannot help but note that at the same time the Congress is considering pilling yet another $100 Million increase onto the Capitol Police budget in the hope of providing more protection to Members of Congress, some of those very same Members of Congress are standing in the way of allowing a vote on firearms regulations that would undoubtedly save the lives of thousands of Americans and reduce the likelihood of awful mass murders like the one recently in Texas. Members rightly fear for their safety, but too little connection is being made between their policy choices that increase the likelihood of violence everywhere, i.e., virtually unfettered availability of firearms and decades of defunded studies on gun violence, and the increased danger Members and staff face. In addition, too little connection is being drawn between the unwillingness of leadership to discipline notorious Members who use of bombastic, violent, and racist rhetoric and the increased likelihood of stochastic terrorism, which is a lone-wolf attack that becomes more stastitically likely because of the inciting speeches. I regretfully must add that the failure to reform the U.S. Capitol Police Board means that all those millions of new dollars for the Capitol Police likely will not yield significant increases in safety for Members, staff, and visitors to the Capitol.
Potentially Criminal Matter and AOC Blanton. Roll Call’s Chris Marquette reported “a potential criminal matter involving Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton has been referred by the agency’s inspector general to the Department of Justice, according to an email obtained by CQ Roll Call and sources familiar with the matter.” We haven’t seen any confirmation on the AOC IG’s website or on Oversight.gov, where IG reports are published. Per Marquette’s reporting, the AOC IG “informed congressional committees with oversight of the agency about the status of the referral,” and that all interviews have been completed. This issue did not come up when the Architect testified before the appropriations committees and we note that Blanton serves on the Capitol Police Board. In 2021, Marquette reported in a colorful article that Blanton may have misused his government vehicle, although it is unclear if that allegation is connected to this potentially criminal matter.
Capitol tours resume. “Phase two” of the Capitol reopening started yesterday — which means the Capitol Visitor Center is now open and more tour groups will be allowed. As we mentioned previously, phase three, which is a full reopening, is not expected until next year, with the key constraint being an insufficient number of USCP officers. We remain concerned that Congress is not taking sufficient care as the COVID pandemic continues, which has already claimed more than 1 million lives in the US and can have long term health consequences.
Evacuation miscommunication. Last month’s evacuation of the Capitol provoked by alarm about a plane conveying parachutists to Nationals Park for a planned ceremony was the result of a communication failure, an FAA report shows. “A US Capitol Police official assigned to help monitor aircraft near Congress knew that the plane was authorized to be in the area and wasn’t a threat, and tried to notify colleagues in a phone call, the report by the Federal Aviation Administration said.” While Speaker Pelosi came down hard on the FAA, prompting an apology, the news report ($) suggests failures by the Capitol Police in that incident as well. If you have the report, send it to us.
Rep. Cawthorn. The House Committee on Ethics announced it has formed an investigatory subcommittee to investigate whether Rep. Madison Cawthorn 1) promoted a cryptocurrency in which he has an undisclosed financial interest, and 2) engaged in an improper relationship with an individual employed on his congressional staff. We cannot help but wonder whether Cawthorn’s irritation of leadership and other Members was connected with the willingness of members of the evenly-divided committee to allow the investigation to go forward.
Rep. Mooney. By contrast, the House Ethics Committee has not yet voted to impanel an investigatory subcommittee into Rep. Mooney. House rules required the committee to disgorge the report of the independent ethics watchdog, the Office of Congressional Ethics, and issue a statement on the status of the investigation, i.e., that it would continue. The newly released OCE referral to the Ethics Committee, sent to the Committee in December 2021 (i.e. five months ago), reached the following conclusions:
• There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Mooney accepted impermissible gifts in the form of a trip to Aruba and free lodging and event space.
• There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Mooney used official resources for campaign work and personal errands.
• There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Mooney authorized impermissible MRA expenditures.
• There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Mooney converted campaign funds from his campaign committees to personal use, or Rep. Mooney’s campaign committees expended funds that were not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes.
• There is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Mooney withheld, concealed, or falsified information during the OCE’s investigation.
Rep. Jackson. Like with Rep. Mooney, the House Ethics Committee has not yet voted to impanel an investigatory subcommittee into Rep. Jackson, but it noted its continuing investigation and disgorged a report by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, which was transmitted back on December 22, 2021. The report concluded “there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Jackson converted campaign funds from Texans for Ronny Jackson to personal use or Rep. Jackson’s campaign committee expended funds that were not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes.”
Ethics reforms. Because the Ethics Committee is evenly split between Ds and Rs, and members are very reluctant to police themselves, it is not uncommon for committee members to either reach detente (I won’t investigate you if you don’t investigate me) or for one party to block investigations of its own members.
This is why the independent Office of Congressional Ethics was created — to use transparency, i.e. disclosure of its findings, which may prompt the Ethics Committee to act. Over time, Members have figured out the compromises necessary to establish the OCE allows them to avoid its reach, which is why we believe the OCE should be granted subpoena power over third parties, which would compel disclosure of information that Members often resist providing.
In addition, the Ethics Committee will drop investigations once Members are no longer in office, which they need not do and provides an incentive to delay in the hopes that time will solve the problem. This is why we think the Ethics Committee should be empowered to release reports that are substantially completed and also to retain jurisdiction even after a Member departs. This better aligns their incentives with holding Members accountable. We don’t want to see accountability slow-walked, especially for electoral considerations.
TECH & DATA
Congress.gov updates. Users can now download 5,000 search results at a time and a new tool links to measures presented to the president.
Digital policy guide. “A Digital Servant’s Guide to U.S. Federal Information Technology Law and Policy Tech” is designed to help tech professionals who are new to the world of federal civil service — and may be of interest to you, too.
Waldo Jaquith’s career in tech, gov’t, civil liberties, and civil rights is the subject of a recent feature from Georgetown’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. Jaquith is senior advisor to GSA administrator Robin Carnahan, a former Beeck Center fellow, and the person behind Richmond Sunlight: which is basically govtrack.us for the state of Virginia — a citizen-built legislation tracking website.
A $2.25 million philanthropic grant to TechCongress will significantly increase the program’s ability to support Congress’s technological needs by increasing the institute’s fellow cohort from 16 to 24 and enabling a third of the fellows to serve as full-time congressional staff. Congratulations!
Freedom Caucus obstructionism. Members of the Freedom Caucus have dramatically slowed down legislative business at various points over the past year by insisting on recorded votes for measures on the House suspension calendar that would usually be passed with little fanfare by voice vote. We hate to be techno-utilitarians, but if these calls for recorded votes on noncontroversial bills unduly slow down the process, why not use technology to empower faster votes? We know from a House Admin hearing and staff report that remote voting can work and can properly ensure that it is the member that is voting — even Newt Gingrich agreed that the technology could work — so perhaps permit remote voting for suspension votes?
Subpoena defiance. Rep. Kevin McCarthy will defy a subpoena issued by the January 6th committee for his testimony, the Washington Post reports. The 11-page letter argues the request for information in invalid because the committee itself “is not exercising a valid or lawful use of Congress’ subpoena power.” It is unusual, to say the least, for a person likely to be Speaker of the House to argue the House’s powers are limited, especially when it comes to the chambers’ determination of what constitutes a valid legislative purpose. The claims raised in his letter have been dismissed elsewhere, but McCarthy likely will be successful in running out the clock especially as the Committee was slow to be formed and slow to act.
ODDS AND ENDS
Capture the flag. Congress handles 100,000 requests for flags flown over the Capitol each year and the process to request and deliver them to constituents is a nightmare. The Modernization Staff Association is trying to bring a little order — and technology — to the chaos, to make it easier to track and fulfill requests. There’s still a ways to go.
Good gov’t approps. The Project on Government Oversight has a new appropriations homepage organizing POGO’s recommendations and testimony all in one place. (Shameless mention: go online to view Demand Progress’s written testimony; and don’t forget our list of approps requests.)
The GAO Database Modernization Act of 2021, S. 629, passed the Senate without objection on May 26th. The measure requires federal agencies to report to the Government Accountability Office whenever the agency revokes, suspends, replaces, amends, or makes ineffective a rule. The law sunsets in six years.
Library of Congress Trust Fund Board. Iris Weinshall, the Chief Operating Officer of the New York Public Library — and wife of Sen. Chuck Schumer — was appointed by Speaker Pelosi to the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board. The Board “is authorized to accept, receive, hold, and administer such gifts or bequests of personal property for the benefit of, or in connection with, the Library, its collections, or its service, as may be approved by the board and by the Joint Committee on the Library. The Trust Fund Board also advises on the investment of the Library’s gift and trust funds.”
The Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress has announced its semi-annual meeting on June 10 at 10 AM. To attend the meeting, RSVP to [email protected] by June 3.