First Branch Forecast for 6/26/23 – Teeing Up a Busy July


This week Congress starts its two-week Independence Day holiday. We’re hoping to take next week off from writing our little newsletter, but we’ll be back.

Among the highlights from this past week:

  • Senate Appropriators adopted 302(b) allocations that are very different from the House’s untenable numbers, but with many Republican defections
  • the National Defense Authorization Act got a full committee markup in the House
  • the Leg Branch Approps bill was reported by the full Appropriations Committee with a few culture-war amendments
  • a resolution to allow for unions in the Senate was introduced by Sen. Brown
  • the Congressional Data Task Force discussed significant efforts to modernize congressional technology
  • the PRESS Act was introduced in both chambers
  • OMB released guidance for the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act.


The House initiated an interchamber battle over appropriations that has all the drama of the debt ceiling without the immediate threat of an end to the global economy. Although we’re most fixated on the end results of the Legislative branch portion of the package, the tripartite divisions on spending levels between the House majority, Senate, and MAGA faction add another dimension of complexity to an already-fraught process. Corporate Republicans in the House, notably, are talking about their own need for unity and are starting to act together on the floor.

The MAGA faction, meanwhile, is channeling deeper into Red Guard energy as the Freedom Caucus is discussing expelling members who seem too cozy with House leadership. Genuine tension exists between the tactical need to stick together and personal ambition to rise within the chamber. From leadership’s perspective, divide-and-conquer is how you rule. The name-calling will get headlines, but the group’s continued coherence remains the story of this Congress.


House appropriators concluded the markup of the Legislative branch bill last Wednesday, following through with cuts to some legislative support offices while providing another significant bump for the US Capitol Police. The overall package is $51.8 million less than the cumulative FY 2024 request, which amounts to a 4.5% cut in House funding in real dollars from last fiscal year (so larger given inflation). The full committee kept to the funding levels used by the Legislative Branch Subcommittee in May.

As we said when it was introduced, this package breaks with previous Republican majorities’ crippling budget cuts of the Legislative branch, cutting but not eviscerating the current level of support for congressional legislative and oversight capacity. This Congress, however, will not build upon the foundation laid by the previous one with additional investments in member and committee staff salaries, science and technology policy knowledge, and technological modernization.

Given the political context of this House majority when it comes to spending, this is a tolerable but not great outcome. But Legislative branch agencies by and large, with the exception of the Capitol Police, stuck to requests that only modestly raised their budgets to account for inflation. Although the Legislative branch was spared some of the outlandish proposed cuts in the aftermath of the MAGA faction floor strike, it’s still being nickel and dimed, as Democrats on the committee pointed out. As with the rest of the cycle, we’ll see how the Senate responds to this bill concerning non-House funding levels.

During the markup, Legislative Branch Subcommittee Chair Mark Amodei offered a manager’s amendment that added some timely language, particularly around the Sergeant at Arms reporting within 30 days on district office safety in light of the attack at Rep. Gerry Connolly’s Fairfax office. It also supported a bicameral and bipartisan proposal to reform the appointment process for the Architect of the Capitol and seemingly urged the speedier release of Capitol Police IG reports. The committee directed CBO to study research-based budget modeling for economic analysis of legislation.

Finally, in light of some frustration about CRS staff availability to committees, it requests that the agency report within 90 days on the number of its staff who have been detailed to committees since 2013, how it decides to assign detailees, their impact on committee and CRS work, and the number of detailees available in FY 2024. It’s one more managerial muddle for the new leadership team to clear up.

Additional amendments stuck to culture war themes, instructing the Library of Congress to rehash a Cold War-style exhibit on American exceptionalism, banning DEI training that “perpetuates divisive concepts related to race or sex,” and forbidding discrimination against staff for speech or actions that reflect opposition to same-sex marriage.

These last two, reflective of Republicans’ blanket rollback of all things “woke” create major challenges to Legislative branch workplaces. The Capitol Police, for example, have a significant history of racial and gender discrimination in assigning and promoting officers. More than 250 black officers have sued the department since 2001 over workplace incidents and discriminatory practices. The Library of Congress began paying out a $8.5 million settlement to 2,000 plaintiffs in 1996 for racial discrimination. It still operates under a consent decree. How does OCWR function? This is unworkable and unwise.

The broadness of the anti-same sex marriage amendment, meanwhile, raises the possibility that staff could take any discriminatory action and hide behind “sincerely held beliefs.” Rep. Mark Pocan, who began his congressional career in an era of uncertainty on how policies applied to his husband, made a passionate and personal objection to the amendment.

We are hopeful that much of this pernicious, culture-war language jammed into the bill will be dropped when the chambers resolve their differences.

The majority also offered contradictory arguments on other diversity-related changes. Rep. Pete Aguilar offered an amendment restoring a rule passed by the last Democratic House majority to allow DACA recipients to work in Congress. It failed narrowly with some Republican members arguing the amendment superseded the House rulemaking process improperly. The committee then turned around and folded the Office of Diversity of Inclusion, which was created by a rule at the start of the 117th Congress, into CAO as part of an “Office of Talent and Development.”

The attack on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is particularly unfortunate in light of its creation on the basis of bipartisan recommendations and that it performs important human resources roles. Pushing it into the CAO lowers its profile and raises questions about whether all of its essential functions will continue.


Senator Sherrod Brown, joined by 18 co-sponsors, introduced the resolution required to begin personal and committee staff unionization in the Senate late last week. A total of 12 House offices have formed unions and another five have filed petitions to do so in the 13 months since the House passed such a resolution, as we’re tracking on this database. Sen. Edward Markey started the ball rolling on the Senate side by voluntarily recognizing his staff’s unionization.

“A year of successful unionization efforts in the House has demonstrated that when congressional staff have a seat at the bargaining table, it results in higher wages, better benefits, and a healthier workplace,” our colleague Taylor Swift said in a statement, which you can read in full here.


After tireless efforts by organizations like the Freedom of the Press Foundation to keep it on the front burner, members have reintroduced the PRESS Act in both chambers. It passed unanimously in the House last Congress but was blocked from unanimous consent by Sen. Tom Cotton and was not tacked onto the final omnibus package.

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have similar journalist shield laws that prevent law enforcement agencies from subpoenaing reporters’ records to identify confidential sources. Obviously, the stakes are much higher for federal whistleblowers, the journalists publishing their information, and the public. Demand Progress issued this statement in support of the reintroduced bill.


The latest meeting of the Congressional Data Task Force featured an illustrative story of how fixes like APIs can make a swirl of information from multiple sources much more usable, and ultimately more helpful to everyone. GAO’s Andrew Kurtzman shared what its innovation lab dubbed “Project Sia,” which attempted to create a single source for GAO divisions to keep updated on congressional committee activity that might be relevant to their work. A GAO report on the shelf, for example, might be relevant to the hearing topic. Hearings also are a good indicator of emerging areas of interest within Congress of GAO to note. The website, of which we saw a sneak peak, connects upcoming congressional hearings with relevant GAO reports and publishes them on an internal website.

Unfortunately, to do this, the team had to build a web scraper to manually gather committee calendar information and then use machine learning to match event language to GAO work. With the launch of the API, however, much of that work is being replaced by the regular release of committee meeting info as structured data. The team will still have to scrape things like press releases, but in the near future GAO can complete the circle and share the relevant reports for hearings ahead of time on itself for anyone interested. People can get better educated on issues, GAO gets insight into what its congressional users need. Win-win.

Other notes from the meeting:

  • GPO has added significant digitized historical records to its collection, including 700 hearings from the mid-20th century and congressional directories from 1891 to 1996. It’s also hoping to launch an API search service soon.
  • A task force working group will release its report on the feasibility of a Leg branch-wide staff directory soon, which is complicated by a lack of data in many instances.
  • The Secretary of the Senate has released a new video player of floor proceedings with better closed captioning capabilities and is attempting to provide the service for all hearings.
  • The long-awaited committee deconfliction tool was released in March by the House Digital Service and committees already are demonstrating better collaboration in the timing of their proceedings. Committees, notably, are sharing draft events with one another.
  • The Senate is exploring how to provide closed captioning for all hearings in close to real time.
  • The Congressional Hackathon will make a return as will an annual meeting hosted by the Library of Congress and focused on legislative data.

We will have a full report on everything that happened at the Congressional Data Task Force in the upcoming weeks.


Since the Reagan Administration, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has been the main overseeing entity over federal regulations. Congress does not have an equally robust corresponding office to evaluate the impact of federal regulations even as the legislation it passes routinely hands regulatory and rulemaking power over to the Executive branch.

A new paper from the Foundation for American Innovation argues that, just as the CBO provides a check to the analysis of OMB, Congress should develop its own capacity to oversee the regulatory regimes created by federal agencies in a Congressional Regulation Office and by expanding resources within GAO. The full paper is available for download at this link.

Former Hill and OMB staffer Matthew Cornelius, meanwhile, argues that OIRA is the problem and that that office should be radically overhauled. “Any OIRA overhaul should radically limit the information collection authorities provided in the PRA, if not abolish them entirely.”


First, a correction: we cited the wrong table in a CRS report last week to suggest that Rep. Adam Schiff was the third member this century to be censured by the House. Reps. Joe Wilson and Laura Richardson actually were reprimanded – only Rep. Charlie Rangel was censured this century for a litany of ethics violations involving millions of dollars. 170 Democrats voted for the censure resolution in 2010. It makes the punishment of Schiff – or the double punishment given he’s already been kicked off HPSCI – all the more absurd as an accountability effort.

The absurdity of accountability standards in the House became outright comedic when one Republican member called another a name worthy of a reprimand over dueling impeachment resolutions of President Joe Biden. Rep. Lauren Boebert’s decision to offer hers as a privileged resolution forced some quick leadership Calvinball maneuvers, pushing it into committees to chill instead of forcing members to take a vote.

Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee took the eyebrow-raising step of announcing a highly unusual dual-track investigation of wrongdoing by Rep. George Santos only a month after the House voted to refer a resolution expelling Santos to the committee. Speaker McCarthy’s fingerprints are all over this process, essentially directing the Ethics Committee to take care of the political problem of Santos to keep the conference at large from standing in judgment.

Over in the Senate, yet another scandal involving free luxury travel for a Supreme Court justice gifted by a billionaire with business in front of the court prompted Judiciary Committee Democrats to push forward a markup of their SCOTUS ethics code legislation immediately after the July 4th recess. The flagrancy with which justices are dismissing criticisms of their conduct suggests this legislation is the absolute bare minimum of congressional action required to rein in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, some Republican members are viewing the SCOTUS scandals as a proxy to get rid of far right justices, leading them to cast a blind eye at the justice’s intolerable behavior.

The pattern here is that perceptions of actions that hold government figures accountable are much more valuable to Congress than actual accountability. We’re not naïve enough to say this is the first such instance of such behavior in the history of the Republic: but the existing processes of congressional accountability become all the weaker the more theatrical or cynical their use (or in the case of the Senate Judiciary Committee, their extreme reluctance to be used).


House Clerk Cheryl Johnson is leaving her post at the end of this week. She’s held the role through some monumental events, including two impeachments, the insurrection, and presiding over a leaderless chamber. The Clerk’s Office also was instrumental in shaping the House’s response to the COVID pandemic. Deputy Clerk Kevin McCumber will succeed her.

Under the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, which Congress passed in December, agencies need to submit many mandated reports electronically to GPO. OMB released its first guidance to agencies on how to comply with the mandate last week. Agencies need to create an account with GPO by Oct. 1 and can begin submitting reports on Oct. 16.

The project lead for GPO’s work on ACMRA spoke at the Congressional Data Task Force meeting last Thursday and shared that the new portal will be available to the public just before Christmas. It won’t just be a PDF farm, either: offices are required to submit reports in open formats. Ultimately, GPO is shooting to publish them in a structured data format to facilitate even more flexibility in use.

Demand Progress spent more than a decade shepherding ACMRA through the legislative process. As it turned out, the simple idea of making all FOIA-able mandated reports publicly available was something that some committees didn’t want to do because they reviewed the agency reports as “theirs.” Hopefully those hold-outs will start to see the light and we will see the law’s scope continue to expand.

Kudos to the Senate Appropriations Committee for its first televised markup. We also note the use of electronic voting during the NDAA markup in the House Armed Services Committee. Both are important if modest improvements to how committees operate, speeding up the pace of the proceedings and allows those not in the room to see what happens.

Sexual harassment by AOC employees remains a major issue despite some progress toward addressing enormous managerial failures found years ago. The AOCI IG has issued a follow-up report to a 2019 study that documented extensive problems in how the agency managed reporting and training. AOC employees continue to report sexual harassment by members of Congress, Capitol Police, and CVC visitors while the agency has not improved data collection or case management systems.

Democrats on the Appropriations Committee are angry that the ratio for majority and minority funding of earmarks was not changed from last Congress, despite being set by the ratio of total submissions by Democrats and Republicans. Now in the majority, Republicans will receive 67% of funds, even though they requested only 36% of projects.

Former committee staffer Nicole Tisdale explains why sneakers and inclusion are interrelated in Hill offices.

The Office of Government Information Services, which acts as the FOIA process ombuds within the National Archives, has issued its FY 2023 annual report.

IRS audits of the wealthy recoup a lot of money. That’s probably why House Republicans slashed funding for them. Prepare to see a lot more Democrats’ tax returns in the Ways and Means Committee, though.


Congressional Committee Calendar

~ Tuesday ~

OCWR will hold a webinar on its role under the Congressional Accountability Act and the rights and responsibilities of covered Legislative branch employees on June 27 at 1 PM. Register here.

~ Wednesday ~

House Office of Diversity and Inclusion Director Dr. Sesha Joi Moon will hold an open meeting on June 28 at 11 AM. RSVP here.