Forecast for March 29, 2021.

Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. (Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.)

TOP LINE

We made it. The House and Senate are on recess for the next two weeks. With members at home, at fundraisers, or on CODELs, staff will have an opportunity to catch up on deferred work and prep for another burst of action. Everyone is back the week of April 12th. Today marks 68 days since Biden was inaugurated and 82 days since the Trump insurrection. (We note that the House’s innovation of committee-only workweeks has been a success.)

Funding levels for Senate committees is the topic of our newly-released report, which found the Senate has made strides to undo decades of damage to their capacity to legislate and conduct oversight, but much more needs to be done. Specifically, Senate committees received an $18 million or 8% boost over the 116th Congress, but even this higher level of funding is still down by $59 million or 20% from the 111th Congress (2009-2010). The median increase in funding for each committee over the last Congress was $900,000 or 11%, and faithful readers have come to expect that we break out the details for each committee — indicating who got what — in the full article. (Our numbers exclude the Appropriations committee, which funds itself through a separate line item and usually has twice the funding of the next largest committee.)

The House Modernization Committee got organized this past week and held a listening session with 23 witnesses, including our very own Taylor J. Swift. We have more on this hearing below.

GAO is reviewing whether Biden’s freeze on border wall construction is in violation of federal law, Caitlin Emma reports. At issue: whether the freeze violates rules intended to keep Congress’s fingers on the federal purse. The GOP request for the review is here. One smart measure to protect Congress’s prerogatives, the Power of the Purse Act, would remedy many of the abuses we saw in the last administration.

The outer Capitol fence is gone, finally, but the inner fence remains for now — and maybe forever. Sens. Blunt and Von Hollen introduced legislation to ensure there is no permanent fence, which is a companion bill to House Del. Holmes Norton’s legislation. We co-led a civil society letter with the Lincoln Network that opposes a permanent fence.

Congress’s approval ratings have more than doubled over the last three months, from 15% in early December to 36% in March, per a Gallup poll. The last time it was this high was March-May 2009. Per Gallup, 59% of Democrats, 34% of independents, and 9% of Republicans approve of Congress’ performance. We underscore their caveat: “much of the recent increases is a function of partisanship,” which suggests Congressional approval ratings are a partisan indicator and thus a poor way to assess whether Congress is functioning properly.

Continue reading “Forecast for March 29, 2021.”

How Senate Committees Get Their Money

Senate committees are at the heart of the legislative process, but what resources are provided for them to do their work? We reviewed the funding levels for Senate committees this Congress as compared to last Congress and over the decades. Here is what we found: 

Senate committees are funded at $238.2 million for the 117th Congress. This represents an 8.2% or $18 million increase from last Congress’s $220.2 million funding level. There is an average increase of $1 million or 8.7% per committee.

Senate committee funding is down by $59 million or 19.9% from the 111th Congress, where it peaked at $297.3 million. Funding this Democratically-controlled Congress also falls short of the Republican-controlled 109th Congress, when Senate committees were funded at $248 million.

Half of Senate committees experienced cuts in funding levels between the 107th and 117th Congresses. In addition, just one committee received a 20% increase from 2001 to 2021 — the Intelligence Committee.

(Please note this analysis excludes funding for the Appropriations Committee, which is funded through a separate mechanism, and we are using constant 2021 dollars.)

Continue reading “How Senate Committees Get Their Money”

New Capitol Police Misconduct Complaint Report Obscures More Than it Reveals

Complaints about U.S. Capitol Police operations, including accounts of racist misconduct within the department and managerial abuses of power, have recently been elevated in the wake of the January 6th attack on Congress. Hard information is hard to come by as it is nearly impossible to get any official data on employee misconduct from the department. There is, however, one small exception: the USCP Annual Statistical Summary Report on Office of Professional Responsibility Investigations.

The Annual Statistical Summary Report provides top line numbers on complaints made against US Capitol Police employees. The report indicates how many misconduct investigations occurred in a given year and how many total charges or allegations of misconduct were filed. Its data is broken out by the status of the individual filing the complaint: citizen, outside law enforcement, internal, or anonymous. Starting in 2019, USCP began including figures of how many individual charges/allegations of misconduct were sustained in Office of Professional Responsibility investigations. 

Today we are publishing the newly obtained 2020 Annual Statistical Summary Report. (It is generous to call this a report: it is a one-page fact sheet.) We previously published reports dating back to 2009, which is when the first report of this type was published online. We asked for data from prior years, but our request was denied. 

Table of OPR Case Summary Statistics. There are 15 citizen complaint cases and 22 citizen allegations. There are 69 department investigation cases and 83 department investigation allegations. There are 17 internal complaint cases and 25 internal complaint allegations. There are 5 referred by law enforcement cases and 7 referred by law enforcement allegations. There are 106 total cases and 137 total allegations. There are 58 sustained allegations.
Continue reading “New Capitol Police Misconduct Complaint Report Obscures More Than it Reveals”

Forecast for March 1, 2021.

Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. (Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.)

TOP LINE

Officials tasked with keeping the Capitol safe and open testified before Congress last week — see the video & written testimony from the HSGAC/Senate Rules hearing with all the former security leaders and from the House Leg branch Approps hearings into the Capitol Police/ SAA (written testimony) and employee health and wellness + Capitol physical damage (written testimony). I shared my thoughts with the Bulwark on the testimony by the former security chiefs. We have more analysis below.

RE: the Jan. 6 insurrection, this upcoming week will feature a joint HSGAC/Rules hearing on Wednesday at 10 into the Executive branch response, with witnesses from DOD, DHS, and the FBI. At the exact same time, the Capitol Police will return to House Leg branch Approps to testify in support of their budget request for FY 2022. The House’s proceedings will go beyond Jan. 6 and may delve into all operations of the USCP. You can find last year’s USCP Budget Justification here (on page 225) and here is our primer on the agency. Don’t forget there’s a supplemental security funding bill that will emerge at some point — no hearings or markup into that so far — our recs for that bill are here.

H. Leg branch Approps budget hearings also are scheduled for this week —- this is where the Legislative branch support agencies sing for their money. On the schedule: the Open World Leadership Center and CBO are testifying Tuesday at 10 & 2, the Capitol Police and the Library of Congress are testifying Wednesday at 10 and 12:30, and the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights is testifying Thursday at 10.

• The Office of Congressional Workplace Right’s biannual report to Congress was just released and contains a half-dozen recommendations to update the Congressional Accountability Act. They include providing whistleblower protections to the Legislative branch, providing subpoena authority to aid in tracking safety and health investigations, requiring records be kept of of workplace injuries, adopting federal workplace record-keeping requirements, and approving the Board’s FMLA and Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) Regulations when they are resubmitted, and more. (An easier-to-read version is available on their website.)

• As a reminder, we keep track of Leg branch approps bills & documents here and also track requests and requirements put into the Leg branch approps bill. (See the graphics far below.) Also, full disclosure, we routinely request bill text and report language regarding Leg branch agencies — see, e.g., last year’s requests. A final note: these hearings can move around at the last moment, so double-check docs.house.gov.

The $5 Billion question: how much money will be available for the Legislative branch? We know Congress and its support offices are significantly underfunded, which is why we and a bipartisan coalition called for a 10% increase in Leg branch funding. One historical problem is that even as funding for Congress has lagged behind the rest of government, 2/3s of any new funding has gone to the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol. We expect Congress will dump a ton of money into the Capitol Police via the supplemental to address decades of mismanagement, even though the USCP has a huge budget and has always gotten its giant requests, which likely will further undermine non-USCP congressional ops in the out-years. Watch leadership + the budget committees as they determine the top line defense vs non-defense spending numbers, and see how the new Approps chairs divide that money among the 12 approps subcommittees.

Continue reading “Forecast for March 1, 2021.”

Forecast for February 22, 2021

Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. (Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.)

SUPPORTING CONGRESSIONAL STAFF + MEMBERS

The Office of Employee Assistance (OEA) and mental health inside the Legislative branch was the topic of the first Leg branch Appropriations subcommittee hearing for the FY 2022 appropriations cycle, which will have 14 hearings in total, the first three focusing on January 6th. We should note that Rep. Ryan has long made mental health and well-being a focus, and we applaud him and the committee for starting on this topic.

• Capitol Police. The hearing primarily revolved around resources OEA is providing USCP officers, congressional staffers, and essential workers on the Hill. OEA Director Tewsburky said the office currently has a total of 16 counselors, four of whom are professional crisis counselors with backgrounds in law enforcement trauma. Since January 6, OEA began deploying 24-hour counseling services for USCP officers, which have provided approximately 1,150 interactions, including 750 counseling sessions. These on-site counselors are being financed by USCP.

• Staff and essential workers support. OEA Director Tewsburky mentioned that OEA services were provided to over 3,000 people in 2020, and the office continues to work with contract companies to ensure contract workers are receiving the necessary support systems. Rep. Espelliat mentioned the critical need for diversity and representation for employees and officers of all backgrounds. Tewsburky mentioned that 50% of OEA professionals are African Americans, and they continue to connect employees to bilingual services to strengthen support.

• Telephone, not video. OEA is using telephonic services, not video, to hold sessions with staffers and officers. (In non-COVID time, some services would be offered in-person.) OEA said the transition to full telephonic support was seamless since they have used these types of services with district staffers for decades. Rep. Wexton mentioned she would like OEA to have the ability to use video counseling.

• More resources. Throughout the hearing, almost every single Member asked “What do you need from us?” The committee is apparently prepared to provide more resources so mental health and wellness services can be sustained at a higher level. Full Appropriations Chair DeLauro, who participated in the proceedings, echoed this sentiment during her opening remarks. Chair DeLauro and said she plans to attend as many Leg branch hearings as she can.

The experiences of Black staffers during the Trump insurrection — how close they came to violence, what it means for democracy, how they feel towards others — is the focus of an article by Luke Broadwater. In recent years there has been increasing research into the lack of diversity among Congressional staff and how that shapes the environment, with some of the most in-depth research conducted by Prof. James R. Jones of Rutgers, who has spoken about the Capitol’s racial caste system and is finishing up his new book, the Last Plantation, on racial inequality in the Congressional workplace. We have seen some efforts to address the staffer pipeline, such as the House’s creation of an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the beginning of paid internships in both chambers (but not yet committees), a House study on staff pay and diversity, and a now quite-late Senate study on its staff, but there’s much more work to do.

Continue reading “Forecast for February 22, 2021”

Forecast for February 15, 2021

THE TOP LINE

Impeachment Trial. There’s no legitimate question about Trump’s guilt, the Senate confirmed its jurisdiction 56-44 (which is basically what CRS said), and jury nullification is not a legitimate option. What’s at stake for Trump: disqualification from serving again in high office. What’s at stake for America? Whether we suffocate our democracy. Sen. McConnell declared his support for acquittal of Trump prior to the vote and personally blocked the reconvening of the Senate to receive the House’s impeachment message, which would have eliminated the jurisdictional argument on which he says he based his vote. As we all know, actions speak louder than words and votes speak louder than belated floor speeches. The final result, 57-43 to convict — the ayes representing 62% of the US population — with 7 Republican senators worthy of the name of the party: Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey. Whether we pass legislation to save our democracy will fall on the shoulders of Democrats for the next two years; it is obvious we cannot rely on help from ten Republican senators necessary to overcome a filibuster.

How to keep Congress safe and open? Congress will consider a “security supplemental” appropriations bill, but what should it address? We think the Capitol Police, remote deliberations, and cybersecurity. Our (newly released) recommendations are here. Also, we have a new coalition letter opposing permanent fencing out today; and Reps. Takano and Foster have questions about House cybersecurity. Meanwhile, the Capitol Police union voted “no confidence” in USCP management and ProPublica’s Joaquin Sapien and Joshua Kaplan have a devastating report about management failures.

Appropriations. The Leg branch appropriations subcommittee, which typically goes first, set a hearing on House Wellness and Office of Employee Assistance (Thursday @10). Other House appropriators also are starting to hold hearings this week. In the Senate, the new Murphy rule (Murphy’s law?) has led to an approps subcommittee chair shuffle. We’ve summarized the changes in this spreadsheet; for our purposes, the big news is Leg branch’s new leaders: Sen. Reed as chair and Sen. Braun as RM.

Rep. Wright died as a consequence of contracting COVID. He is the first sitting Member of Congress to die from the illness (Rep.-elect Letlow passed in December), although we do not know how many staff have died or how many people will suffer long term consequences. More resources on continuity of Congress during COVID are here.

Continue reading “Forecast for February 15, 2021”

25+ Years of Legislative Branch Appropriations: Data Spanning from 1994-2021 All In One Place

Every year Congress determines exactly how much money will be made available to the Legislative Branch and the purpose for which it can be spent. The Legislative Branch Appropriations bills directs congressional spending, line-item by line-item — but, alas, the instructions are published as prose, can run for dozens of pages, and it is difficult to see how appropriations spending has changed over the decades.

We’ve gone through  all of the spending bills for the last quarter-century and lined up the spending items in a downloadable spreadsheet. Now you can see how spending on each line-item has changed from 1994 forward.

Peruse the Legislative Branch budget line items from fiscal years 1994-2021 below, or download the data set here

Questions, comments, concerns? Drop us a line at Amelia@DemandProgress.org 

Forecast for February 1, 2021

The Senate still has not organized, COVID is spreading like wildfire, the impeachment trial clock is ticking, unemployment benefits will expire soon, and white nationalists remain an active threat. Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Please tell your friends to subscribe.

THE TOP LINE

The no deal deal. Sen. McConnell is continuing to delay efforts by the Senate to enact an organizing resolution — the 117th Congress is 12 days old — and committees remained chaired by GOP members or no one at all. Burgess Everett reports Senate leaders are close to a deal, modeled on the 2001 power sharing agreement, with the remaining fight over an “open process.” They should make like an amendment tree and leave. (Sorry.)

The majority’s fragility was highlighted by the brief hospitalization of Sen. Leahy on Tuesday and Sen. Warner’s exposure to COVID on Wednesday and subsequent quarantine. Sen. McConnell almost lost his operating majority last Congress when a half-dozen Republicans had to quarantine. As you know, we think the Senate should be able to operate even if Members cannot attend in person; check out our continuity of Congress website for more.

The House plans to bring a FY 2021 budget reconciliation resolution directly to the floor, which, once passed, would help the Senate avoid filibuster drama (at the expense of certain provisions) but is procedurally complex, as Paul Krawzak and David Lerman explain. The House updated its schedule and Members are expected to stay in town some weekends to pass a relief package in time to extend benefits before they expire. Some Senate Republicans are complaining that the relief legislation is not bipartisan even as Senate Republicans block the Senate from organizing, the COVID pandemic and economic destabilization accelerate after insufficient Congressional action last Congress, and Democrats say they are willing to collaborate. My free advice: ten Senate Republicans should vow to unconditionally stop any filibuster of a COVID relief measure — which is why reconciliation is being used — as a gesture of goodwill.

Security supplemental. Congress is preparing to move a supplemental Legislative branch appropriations bill to address security issues relating to Congress, Lindsey McPherson and Katherine Tully-McManus report. We have done a ton of work watchdogging the Capitol Police, investigating cybersecurity issues, and delving into Continuity of Congress, and our FY 2021 appropriations recs are online and address these issues. More to come on this from us. In the meantime, security is being heightened at Congress. We are troubled by the USCP Chief’s closed-door recommendation for a permanent security fence, which we believe is both inappropriate for an open government and a distraction from the real causes of the attack of the Capitol, many of which center around major problems at the Capitol Police. (NB: The NYT has the USCP chief’s written testimony at a closed-door proceeding, which is most revealing for what it does not address.)

Inside threat? Comity between Democrats and Republicans has deteriorated even further in light of Republican anti-democratic rejection of the election results, the so-far unwillingness of Republican leadership to discipline radical right Republicans who are tied to the insurrection (some of whom espouse bizarre Qanon conspiracy theories and had previously threatened to physically harm lawmakers), other Republican members defying long standing rules prohibiting firearms on the House floor, and so on. As former Rep. Amash reminded us, “I was once stripped of a committee assignment for voting differently from Paul Ryan on a budget resolution.” It is past time for Republican leadership to put Qanon-believers and white supremacist allies off of congressional committees and out of the party. We will closely watch this week’s meeting between Leader McCarthy and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

We published a new white paper with Public Citizen entitled Article One: Rebuilding Our Congress that explains how Congress has weakened itself from the inside and the steps it can take to regain its power. Spoiler alert: It starts with Congress investing greater resources to strengthen and modernize its operations while also rebuilding its oversight and power of the purse authorities.

Getting credit? Has your boss had a bill become law but hasn’t gotten credit for it on Congress.gov because it was included as part of another bill? We’re making a list. Email and tell me about it at daniel@demandprogress.gov.

What’s due: February 2021 edition. We published our latest article on what reports are due from support offices and agencies. See the graphic below.

Continue reading “Forecast for February 1, 2021”

Capitol Police Fire Arm Regulations

The Capitol Police Board has regulations governing firearms, explosives, incendiary devices and other dangerous weapons which specify that no person shall carry any firearm inside the chamber or on the floor of either House.

The full regulations can be seen in the following image, which has been transcribed as text at the end of this article.

Continue reading “Capitol Police Fire Arm Regulations”

A Primer on the Capitol Police: What We Know From Two Years of Research

Today armed Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an apparent and temporarily successful effort to disrupt the vote to certify the 2020 presidential election results. Members, staff, and journalists were forced to hide throughout the terrifying ordeal and many took to Twitter asking the fundamental questions: Where are the Capitol Police and how could this happen?

The U.S. Capitol Police is the security-force/police-department hybrid tasked with keeping Congress safe and open for business. The little-known department has a budget that exceeds $515 million for FY 2021— constituting almost 10% of Legislative branch funding — and nearly 2,450 employees, around 2,000 of whom are sworn officers. The size of the Capitol Police’s budget can compete with major municipal police forces such as San Antonio’s, which is responsible for a population of 1.5 million, and USCP’s workforce size eclipses that of major city departments like New Orleans and Miami. Notably, their extended jurisdiction covers less than 2 square miles, and there are many other police and security forces in Washington, D.C.

How is the department using those resources to enforce the law and protect the Congress? It is difficult to say because the Capitol Police are infamously opaque. Only in response to significant outside agitation did we obtain any details about their operations. For example, the department started posting weekly arrest summaries in December 2018, following prodding from civil society and congressional overseers. These summaries are among the limited information the department shares publicly — although we have reason to suspect they are not complete, among other shortcomings

Continue reading “A Primer on the Capitol Police: What We Know From Two Years of Research”