Forecast for November 18, 2019.

Take a break from wall-to-wall impeachment coverage and read about what else is happening in today’s First Branch Forecast.

TOP LINE

What’s the best way for Congress to strengthen its tech policy chops? The National Academy of Public Administration issued their recommendations in a new report, “Science and Technology Policy Assessment: A Congressionally Directed Review.” Experts will discussthe report’s findings, as well as strategies for reinvigorating the Legislative Branch’s tech policy capacity, Wednesday from 10 to 12 at an off campus location. Can’t make it? Watch online.

• A HUGE thanks Leg Branch Approps — former Rep. Kevin Yoder, Rep. Tim Ryan, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Senator Chris Murphy — for putting the report in motion. Thanks also to Zach Graves at the Lincoln Network who called for this report back in 2017.

Fix Congress Committee, Season 2: Coming soon. The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress issued 29 recommendations to fix Congress, but the committee was scheduled to sunset in December. We’re thrilled the House voted to let them continue their work in 2020 (rule vote details here).

House Admin is having a Member Day hearing Thursday morning. @House Staffers – this is your chance to get your boss on the record with ideas to improve Congress (and federal elections). Testimony is due by Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

Last week the Senate Rules held a hearing on the nomination of Hugh Halpern to serve as the Director of GPO—the agency has been without a permanent director since 2017. He is a former House Rules Committee and floor staffer and is liked by everyone, including us. During his testimony Mr. Halpern emphasized updating the traditionally paper-first organization for an increasingly digital world. He also underscored the importance of an independent GPO watchdog. (This has been a problem in the past). A committee vote on his nomination is set for today at 5:45.

Continue reading “Forecast for November 18, 2019.”

Forecast for November 11, 2019.

PRE-RAMBLE

With impeachment and the election season heating up, I want to talk directly about this newsletter. We focus on building a strong, modern, resilient Congress and stay away from items that are merely partisan or about political advantage.

But questions arising from the operation of the legislative branch have become closely intertwined with the debate over impeachment and presidential electoral politics. I won’t pretend we don’t have an opinion about all that. But, in this space, we will work very hard to stay focused on strengthening Congress, even as some of what we recommend has definite political winners and losers.

If you think we cross a line, or there are items we have missed, let us know. Don’t forget to tell your friends to subscribe.

TOP LINE

The first public impeachment hearings are set for Wednesday and Friday in 1100 Longworth before the House Intel Committee. Some closed-door proceeding transcripts have been releasedJust Security is compiled the public docs here. Rep. Jim Jordan has joined the committee, replacing Rep. Crawford, and brings along his Oversight Committee investigative counsel Steve Castor, who is now a shared employee and likely will be prominently featured as an interlocutor. It still appears Dems leadership wants to rush the proceedings and be done in the House by the end of the year.

Government funding runs out next week and senior appropriators will meet Tuesday at 5. It looks like there will be a short term CR through December, perhaps expiring just in time for the holiday season. 🙂 They also must reach agreement on the 302(b) allocations—we hope the House will accede to the Senate’s slightly higher Leg Branch number.

Continue reading “Forecast for November 11, 2019.”

Forecast for November 4, 2019.

THE TOP LINE

It’s a little off topic, but there is legislation to allow states to elect to observe daylight savings time for the duration of the year. It’s HR 1601 and has 13 co-sponsors (from both parties). Just saying.

APPROPRIATIONS

Another continuing resolution seems almost inevitable to keep the government open beyond Thanksgiving, when the current CR runs out, and it will be interesting to see whether it is “clean.” Appropriators & Leadership don’t see eye-to-eye on how long the CR should last. Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McConnell want a short term CR that expires at the end of the year; Senate Appropriations Chairman Shelby says a February or March deadline is more realistic; and House Approps Chair Lowey says sometime in between. For added spice, last minute brinkmanship might ruin everyone’s Turkey-day plans.

The Senate approved a package of spending bills (CJS, Ag., Interior, and T-HUD)last week, but the House and Senate still have not agreed on allocations for the 12 appropriations subcommittees.

A CR makes us nervous, especially as conflict over impeachment could trigger a government shutdown. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there’s a great incentive for Trump to distract our attention, and a shutdown would do it for weeks (or months) on end. FWIW, Speaker Pelosi thinks an impeachment-triggered shutdown is unlikelyTrump won’t rule it out. If we can’t avoid a shutdown it will cost taxpayers big time—the last 3 cost taxpayers $4 billion.

Running Congress takes money. If you want meaningful oversight, smarter laws, protected whistleblowers, a warm welcome to visitors, and a safe capitol campus, there has to be enough money in the piggy bank to pay for it. To make up for decades-long funding shortfalls, we believe Congress should provide the leg branch a 10% bump to help get closer to parity for FY2020. Senate Appropriators proposed a 5.3% increase (to $5.092 B) and House Appropriators proposed a meager 3.6% increase (to $5.010 B). With a $27 Billion increase on the table for non-defense discretionary spending, the total increase over FY 2019 spending levels under our proposal is $0.48 Billion, or 1.78% of the anticipated new spending. But since it’s not up to us, given the choice, we’d urge the House to give way to the Senate’s numbers, and plan a bigger increase for FY 2021 — assuming we’re not stuck in permanent CR, which is why getting it right now matters so much.

Continue reading “Forecast for November 4, 2019.”

Have CRS Annual Reports Disappeared?

Every year the Congressional Research Service submits a report to Congress that provides some information about the agency’s work over the preceding year. From these reports you can glean some insights about how the agency is run, what they prioritize, the long term projects they have undertaken, get a list of new CRS reports, and understand a bit about their interrelationship with Congress. In general terms, it’s a promotional piece for CRS that shows the agency’s work in the best possible light — it’s geared for appropriators — and also includes some useful information about CRS’s operations. Many agencies publish these kinds of promotional reports. 

The reports are a snapshot, and on their own don’t provide much information about changes in the agency’s behavior over time. However, if you take the data from reports across many years, you can start to draw conclusions about how their operations have changed. We’ve tried to do just that — but ran into some interesting stumbling blocks. This article is about how hard it is to get information that should be publicly available.

Continue reading “Have CRS Annual Reports Disappeared?”

Forecast for October 28, 2019.

CONGRESS IN BRIEF

Government funding runs out by Thanksgiving and lawmakers still haven’t agreed on 302(b) allocations. The Senate will take up a package of four “non-controversial” spending bills this week (Ag, CJS, Interior & Transportation), but there’s no consensus on top line numbers. And now there’s talk about another CR until March — which keeps everyone frozen in place; Congress did agreed upon a $22 billion increase for defense spending and a $24.5 billion increase for non-defense discretionary spending. (We think they should agree to increase the allocation for leg branch, too.)

The Fix Congress committee will hold a hearing on “Congress and the Frank: Bringing Congressional Mailing Standards into the 21st Century”; House Veterans Affairs will look at protecting whistleblowers in the VA; and House Oversight will delve into the White House’s dysfunctional clearance system. On the Fix Congress committee front, we are keeping an eye on whether leadership will extend its term, which ends at year’s end — they should.

Sixty Seven Inspectors General called out the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel for a dangerous OLC opinion that undermines whistleblowers and the role played by Inspectors General. The letter from the Council of the Inspectors General expressed their “concern that the OLC opinion, if not withdrawn or modified, could seriously undermine the critical role whistleblowers play in coming forward to report waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct across the federal government…. OLC’s interpretation regarding the [Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act] procedure in question…. has the potential to undermine IG independence across the federal government.” They’re right, and OLC is undermining the trust whistleblowers put in Inspectors General; OLC needs greater transparency concerning its opinions and also significant reform in its operations.

Technology Assessment Study. The National Academy of Public Administration’s report on resources currently available to Congress on science and technology policy and the “potential need … to create a separate entity charged with the mission of providing nonpartisan advice” is due to CRS by October 31, and expected to be available to congressional staff and perhaps the public soon thereafter.

Continue reading “Forecast for October 28, 2019.”

CBO’s Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Forms

You may have heard of the Congressional Budget Office, the legislative branch agency tasked with advising Congress on the potential economic impact of legislation. In formulating these analyses, CBO may rely on outside experts. The agency has three panels of advisers (Economic, Health, and Health Insurance) composed of experts from academia, the private sector, and elsewhere that provide input on CBO analyses, and CBO also consults with other outside experts. 

These outside advisers have the potential to influence CBO’s perspective, which is why the advisers are required to disclose their significant financial interests as a way of surfacing potential conflicts. Until recently, CBO did not publish on its website information about how to review the forms

Continue reading “CBO’s Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Forms”

Recap of the 2019 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference

Last week internal and external Congressional stakeholders came together for the seventh annual Legislative Data and Transparency Conference. We’ve recapped them all.

The bipartisan conference was incredibly well run, and did a fantastic job convening internal and external congressional groups to promote engaging and well-executed events (detailed in the image below). You can check out the event descriptions and panelist bios here, and watch the full conference here. (We note parenthetically that this is the first time the conference has been held under Democratic control of the House, which illustrates how these issues have become institutional matters and not partisan ones.)

Continue reading “Recap of the 2019 Legislative Data and Transparency Conference”