Happy House Union Day to all those who celebrate! Today is the day House staff can join a labor union under protection of law. It’s a historic occasion a quarter-century in the making. And yet, some Senate staff cannot collectively bargain until the Senate approves regulations adopted by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights and some joint staff cannot collectively bargain until both chambers approve OCWR regs.
→ If you missed our Power of Unions in Congress panel last week, catch up on the video here. We covered all you need to know and the fight yet to come. Also, don’t miss Pablo Manríquez’s New Republic piece covering much of the unionization road up to this point, including Manríquez’s own pivotal role in making sure the right questions got asked.
→ We’ll be tracking which offices are unionizing and we anticipate some announcements on Monday. If you’ve got news for us, reach out to [email protected].
This week on the floor. Both the House and Senate are in. House Democrats have unveiled their strategy to pass as many approps bills as possible before recess: bringing a package of six less-controversial bills to the floor this week (H.R. 8294), then trying to move at least three more — likely saving Defense, Homeland Security for later and Leg branch as well. On the Senate side, without Republican negotiation on topline numbers, Senate Dems will forgo markups and publish their draft bills by August. There’s a bunch of messaging bills moving, and the black hole that was Biden’s Build Back Better could show up any day now. “Trust me.” Ironically, apparently the deconstruction of reconciliation after the Manchin slow-roll — looks like progressives were right to try to tie infrastructure to BBB — makes it more likely appropriations bill become law this congress.
This Tuesday in the committees:
• House Judiciary will discuss the government’s unconstitutional access to our personal data purchased via data brokers at 10 AM. (For a fix, see the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act, S.1265 and H.R. 2738).
• House ModCom will mark up its modernization recs at 10 AM
• More in the calendar section
Don’t miss: the House passed the NDAA last week, which we haven’t had a chance to assess. We were alerted, by a House Oversight Committee press release, to the welcome inclusion of the PLUM Act — a bill we’ve long supported to increase transparency of political appointees — and many elements of the IG Independence and Empowerment Act. Also, the House passed the Improving Government for America’s Taxpayers Act, which Dan Lips at the Lincoln Network lauds as rightly requiring GAO to annually tell Congress what taxpayers could save if federal agencies enacted all of its open priority recommendations.
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The big picture. Elections and Congress are the motors of our democracy. Our focus is on creating a durable democracy built upon a capable Congress, an approach most people are overlooking as they focus only on elections, as I wrote in a recent guest blog for Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement. Longtime readers won’t be entirely surprised by this lens — but it’s helpful to zoom out to understand how restoring Congress restores faith in our democracy. This story hasn’t been told this way elsewhere. Read it here.
• Non-white Senate staffers were paid thousands less than their white counterparts last year, according to a recent LegiStorm analysis. Per LegiStorm, in DC non-white staffers earned just 86% as much as white staff (or an average of $9,100 less per year), and 91% as much in district offices. Preliminary stats like these make us glad the Senate pay survey is up and running — something Demand Progress has long encouraged. They also remind us why the Senate still needs to establish an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, as Demand Progress has recommended for inclusion in the FY 2023 Senate Leg Branch Approps bill, and to create a pay floor for staff.
• Senate Dems’ diversity stats are in. The latest staff diversity snapshot reveals a record number of Senate Democratic staff identify as people of color — but certain offices still lag behind. And over 22% of offices employ zero Black staffers, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies notes in its own independent analysis. We note problems with the data collection, such as grouping together junior and senior staff that obscures the anecdata that many staff of color apparently hit a glass ceiling and are relatively overrepresented in junior positions. We are also fascinated by members from the same state that have huge differences in the diversity of their staff.
• Senate Republicans have not, to date, released diversity data for their own caucus — and there’s no requirement for a full-Senate diversity survey. One had been adopted by the Senate Leg Branch Appropriations Committee, but the diversity component was quietly killed.
• The vast majority of the staff salary studies going back to the 1980s are not publicly available. In fact, most of them are lost even to Congress. We spent years collecting them, and have published a full list for the House and Senate. Copyright restrictions (imposed by the chambers!) restrict us from publishing them all online.
NDAA amendment offers cue for Congress nerds. A provision in the Chairman’s mark to the NDAA caught our eye. It changes how the Pentagon obtains software — something that has big implications for those in the congressional tech space. As Caleb Harshberger explains for BGov, when contractors with the federal government “retain rights over the data and code underpinning the software they sell to the government, they can end up locking in an agency long-term, limiting its ability to explore alternate solutions.”
• Section 824 of the Chairman’s mark mandates educating DoD officials about the terms of acquisition and creating a pilot program to test the feasibility of unique approaches to negotiating software data rights.
• Congress nerds, take note: such a policy could have huge implications for the cost-effectiveness of contracting with outside software firms and ensuring that contracts with tech startups and companies actually serve Congress in the long run. We have long encouraged Congress to use open source software and to make its data and code available to the public.
Appropriations transparency and the Congressional Data Task Force were the focus of my chat with the Federal News Networkon the “Federal Drive” podcast with Tom Temin. This of it as a First Branch Forecast podcast, but not a soliloquy.
Congressional reform in the 118th Congress? When the 117th Congress ends, the ModCom likely will disappear and two key champions of congressional reform will leave the House. In an opinion piece for The Hill, Kevin R. Kosar of AEI calls on the House to commit to congressional modernization across three institutions: the ModCom, the House Admin Cmte, and the House SubCmte on Leg Branch Approps. Congress can and should reinstate the ModCom in the 118th Congress; and whichever party takes the majority should ensure strong reformers succeed Reps. Tim Ryan and Rodney Davis.
Modernizing constituent services was discussed in a ModCom hearing last Thursday. We didn’t get the chance to write up the proceedings, but there’s a good write-up in the Fulcrum and you can catch up on the video here. The key takeaways, per the Fulcrum: constituent services are lagging behind the times; Congress should develop a set of digital tools available to all Member offices to help understand and triage constituents’ needs.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Apportionments transparency. OMB just published apportionments for all federal agencies in 2022 to its website, as directed in the FY 2022 spending omnibus. House Budget and Approps Cmte Chairs Yarmuth and DeLauro released a statement celebrating the reform. Demand Progress advocated for the inclusion of apportionments transparency in the FY 2022 bill, and joins a coalition of good government groups in calling for this provision to be re-upped in ‘23. Spending decisions are made by Congress and when OMB makes alterations in where that money goes or when it’s spent, it should report that information to Congress and the public.
Because they’re still relevant, we’re rounded up our appropriations resources for you yet again. We’ll be back with resources for the Senate side once Senate Dems drop their draft bills.
You can find bill text, committee reports, and earmark requests on the House side using our tracker; we explain how to track House approps proceedings here. The official and semi-official sources (appropriators for the hearing/markup schedule and Congress.gov for its language tracker) are more authoritative but IMO sometimes confusing.
The CPCC has a good explainer of the context, timeline, and process of Approps season up here.
Capitol steps harassment points to the big questions about USCP. Rep. AOC was sexually and racially harassed by a far-right troll while speaking on the Capitol steps last week. As she told Latino Rebels reporter Pablo Manríquez, feeling unsafe in the Capitol is nothing new. AOC sums up the state of Capitol security: “Remember how there was tons of footage and evidence of officers & others inside on 1/6 supporting insurrectionists, but then everyone decided it was too politically risky to investigate thoroughly so they brushed under the rug and now we still have no idea who or what is safe?” In our view, there’s no reason to think the Capitol Police leadership have improved since the Jan. 6th attack; the USCP Board is hopefully incapable and conflicted; there’s a significant list of unimplemented reform proposals; and Congress is once again throwing money at a problem that’s actually about leadership and oversight.
The threats aren’t confined to the Capitol: last week, a man with a gun showed up to Rep. Pramila Japayal’s home in Seattle and stated, “Go back to India, I’m going to kill you.”
Right-wing Family Research Council rebrands as a ‘church.’ The FRC, a prominent right-wing think tank and lobby group that pushes anti-abortion and anti-trans legislation, just reincorporated as a church, ProPublica reports. This has been a trend since at least 2013. The move confers tax benefits and allows organizations to sidestep anti-discrimination laws.
Sen. Ron Johnson’s cash gifts for his wife and former chief-of-staff totaled $280,000. Last week, an official Senate Ethics complaint was filed against Sen. Johnson for the gifts. We are pessimistic that the complaint, if investigated and substantiated, will result in disciplinary action.
Campaign funds for childcare? In May, Rep. Eric Swallwell petitioned the FEC to use campaign funds to pay for childcare while he was away campaigning; the public hearing of the matter, held last week, has sparked bitter controversy between two commissioners who disagree on whether the FEC should hear the petition at all. One commissioner had the gall to express his own view on whether the Member should be traveling.
ODDS AND ENDS
POST OTA. How did the United Kingdom create a science and technology advisory function similar to the Office of Technology Assessment? Emmeline Ledgerwood tells the tale of incremental steps to create the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology in a short, fascinating blogpost that draws from a much longer (and also fascinating) journal article. The sustained efforts at institution building have important lessons for us, including the folks at GAO’s STAA.
Capitol statuary. A state statue of Black educator Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was installed in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall last week, replacing that of confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith — the first time a Black American has been honored with a state statue. Let’s take this one again. This is the first time a Black American has been honored with a state statue. It’s 2022, people. Outrageously, Confederate statues still stand in the National Statuary Hall. The House passed a bill to remove all Confederate statues last summer, and provisions have been included in the appropriations bills, but the Senate has demurred.
“10 Things the Supreme Court Can Do Right Now to Begin to Rebuild America’s Trust” is Fix the Court’s to-do list for SCOTUS. Transparency and a code of ethics are more important than ever when the court is committed to undermining its own legitimacy.
Succession. Sen. Deb Fischer is Rules Chair apparent should Republicans take the Senate, Sen. Fischer told POLITICO.
Senate dining workers face layoffs, again. Dozens of Senate dining workers face layoffs on July 28, KTM reports for Politico’s ‘Huddle.’ If this is sounding familiar, it is: $3.75 million in stopgap funds were appropriated in April to avert layoffs, but the Architect now seems to have directed Restaurant Associates, the Senate dining contractor, to cut down its workforce. Senate dining workers were Senate employees until 2008, when the cash-strapped Senate hired the mega-contractor Restaurant Associates, setting up the precarious scenario that persists today.
Whistleblowers. How can Members of Congress best work with Whistleblowers? The Office of the House Whistleblower Ombuds has a one-pager that can help.
Advisors to former presidents are not absolutely immune from congressional subpoenas, a position that should surprise no one but was taken for the first time by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in a legal filing. As you know, we believe Congress and the public should be aware of all legal opinions by OLC to which the DOJ acts as if they have the force of law.
John Sullivan, who served as House Parliamentarian, has passed. Rep. Hoyer expressed his condolences. You can watch House Members pay tribute to Sullivan upon his retirement in March 2012.
Committee recommendations markup from the House Modernization Committee at 10 AM on July 19.
Intelligence Authorization markup before HPSCI at 10 AM on July 19.
Markup of 6 Approps Bill Minibus before House Rules Committee at 1 PM on July 19.
DISCLOSE Act hearing before Senate Rules Committee at 3 PM on July 19.
The Changing Election Security landscape before House Homeland Security at 9:30 AM on July 20.
Congress’s role in “pursuing factual consensus” is the topic of the Levin Center’s upcoming panel discussion on July 21 from 12-1:30 PM, the second in a series of three panels on facts and public discourse. Register here.
The implications of West Virginia v. EPA is the subject of a Public Citizen webinar on July 21 from 3-4 PM, which will explore how federal agencies can continue adopting regulations that protect the public in the face of the court’s ruling on the major questions doctrine. Register here.
January 6th Committee hearing at 8 PM.
Down the line
Save the date for law reform. The Seventh International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform, a conversation about how laws are written in the US and around the world, will be held November 3 and 4 in-person in DC. You’ll be able to register here soon.
There’s the right way, the wrong way, and…