House Intel Should Follow House Rules and Keep Its First Meeting Open to the Public

The House Intelligence Committee has scheduled its organizational meeting for this Wednesday, but by setting the meeting as “closed” and holding it where it is inaccessible to the public and press, it is in violation of House rules.

Announcement of House Intel Meeting on Feb 6, 2019 in HVC-304

House Rule XI (2)(g)(2) on open meetings requires that business meetings be open to the public (including the press) except when the committee holds by record vote in open session to close it for one of a limited number of reasons. 

House Committee Rule XI(2)(g)(1) on Open Meetings and Hearings

The Committee could argue that these openness rules only apply to standing committees and HPSCI is a select committee. But House Rule X, clause 11(d)(1) incorporates this provision to specifically apply to the House Intel Committee.

no title (1)

The House Intelligence Committee has recognized the authority of these provisions in the past. For example, the House Intelligence Committee rules from the *114th* Congress required a public meeting and vote before going into closed session.  See Rule 4.

House Intelligence Committee Rules for the 114th Congress, Rule 4

The House Intel Committee is holding the proceedings in HVC-304, which is on the third floor of the U.S. Capitol (inside the Capitol Visitors Center) and I believe this is a closed space, inaccessible to the public and press. I belief this is where the SCIF is located — a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility– which is by definition keeps out everyone except those with clearance. Holding the organizational meeting here violates House rules, which requires the public and press have access to this public meeting.

It should go without saying that the first meeting of the House Intelligence Committee, at which it adopts its rules of procedure, should be open to the public and press. There’s no reason to close that discussion and, under the House rules, the committee has not taken the necessary steps to make the determination to close the proceedings.

How House Committees Get Their Money

Committee funding in the House of Representatives is accomplished through a somewhat quirky process. Appropriators in the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee set a top dollar amount for the committees — they appropriate the funds — but it is the Committee on House Administration that provides (i.e. allots) the funds to each committee on a biennial basis.

At the beginning of each new Congress, each committee chair and ranking member jointly testifies before the House Administration Committee and requests funds for their committee. For the 115th Congress, the hearings took place on February 15th and 16th, 2017. Here is the committee notice; the written statements requesting funds; and video from Feb. 15 and Feb. 16.

On March 7th, the House Administration Committee introduced a funding resolution in the House, and on March 8, the committee held a markup on House Resolution 173 that allotted funds to the committees. You can watch the very brief proceedings here. House Administration reported out the committee report a week later on March 15th, and the House passed the resolution on March 17.

HOW FUNDING FOR COMMITTEES HAS CHANGED OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS

What does this look like in practice? Drawing upon the excellent data in this CRS report, plus a little additional research on spending on the appropriations committee, we looked at:

  1. Total committee spending from 1995 to present
  2. The change in spending per committee from 1997 to present
  3. Spending per committee in the last Congress

What did we find? Overall, committees have significantly fewer funds available than their recent historical counterparts, which undermines their ability to do their jobs.

(Want to check our math? You can see our data here: un-adjusted committee spending data from 1994-2018 and inflation-adjusted committee spending data from 1994-2018.)

TOTAL COMMITTEE SPENDING

Total spending on committees is down by more than $100 million from its peak, using inflation adjusted dollars. The House of Representatives put $319,584,882 towards its committees in the 115th Congress, down from $429,551,693 in the 111th Congress, which incidentally was when Democrats last controlled the House. This is a 25% cut in funding. As a point of comparison, Capitol Police salaries for FY 2018 alone amounted to $351,700,000 in FY 2018, with an additional $74,800,000 in general expenses.

What’s interesting is that committee spending is down from when Republicans last controlled both the House and the White House, in the 109th Congress. At that time, committees received $399,361,247 in inflation adjusted dollars, which is $80m more than the most recent Congress.

committee spending

SPENDING BY COMMITTEE

In the 115th Congress, the appropriations committee received far and away the lion’s share of committee funding, more than double the next closest committee. The following two charts show how the last Congress prioritized its committee spending. As mentioned above, it is worth noting that the overall pie has shrunk considerably.

115th

pie

CHANGES IN SPENDING BY COMMITTEE

As the overall spending pie for committees has shrunk, who has come out ahead and who has lagged behind? Ethics, Intel, Financial Services, and Ways and Means are all up, but this is deceiving. Ethics ($6.8m) and Intel ($12.4m) have comparatively tiny budgets, as compared with quite well funded Financial Services ($17m) and Ways and Means ($18.5) committees.

Similarly, Budget, Rules, Appropriations, and Oversight appear down, but this too is misleading. Rules ($6.6m) and Budget ($10.7m) are comparatively small, whereas Oversight ($18.8m) is the third largest committee, and Appropriations ($47.8m) is the largest.

percentchange

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

House Democrats could increase funding for committees by 20-25 percent and still be within historical norms for committee spending. Indeed, what the data shows is that the House’s committees have been hollowed out in recent years.

The biggest likely constraints on returning to normal allotment levels are that the legislative branch budget is comparatively smaller than historical norms, and it will be hard to find the money. Spending on other items eat up a comparatively larger share of legislative branch funds.

This suggests that when Democrats start the Budget process, in which they will decide how much money to make available to the 12 appropriations subcommittees, they should look to increase funds to the legislative branch.

A FEW FINAL NOTES

First, and not to make things too complicated, but the allotment process (the divvying up of funds among the committees) happens only once, at the start of each Congress, and the allotment resolution covers a two year period. By contrast, the legislative branch appropriations process, which is what okays the spending of money, happens every year. You can imagine the appropriation as Congress spending money to buy a pie, and the allotment process as cutting up pieces for each committee. The appropriation and allotment process run on different calendars, which can make things confusing.

Second, generally speaking, funds for a committee are further subdivided, with 2/3s available to be spent by the majority and 1/3 by the minority. This isn’t always true, such as for the Ethics committee, and there can be other considerations, but that’s generally how it works. In addition, the funds are generally allotted in two segments, for each year of the Congress.

Third, in some Congresses there is a separate reserve fund, just in case a committee overspends.

Fourth, while most committees are allotted funding, Appropriators appropriate funding specifically for the Appropriations Committee in a separate line item.

Finally, the last time there was a select environmental committee, back in the 111th Congress (2009-2010), the committee was allotted $4,875,975 (in inflation-adjusted dollars).

Forecast for December 31, 2018. Party like it’s 2019.

TOP LINE

And we’re (almost) back. The 116th Congress starts on Thursday.

It’s common for members to introduce legislation on the first day (237 bills were introduced in the House on day one in the 115th). But — and this is unusual timing — it looks like the House will pass an appropriations bill to end the partial government shutdown on day one. Sen. McConnell said he won’t hold a vote on a plan Trump won’t sign, which presumably includes an identical version of the bill the Senate recently passed. In light of this, House Dems might as well pass a bill that reflects their values and splits the Republicans. 

— Whose fault? The New York Times wrote about how the shutdown suggests a congressional abdication of its responsibility. Oddly, they didn’t mention Sen. McConnell, who is a key player and has the power to end this charade. Matt Glassman has a smart analysis of the politics of the situation

Speaker-designee Pelosi released a letter Saturday night lauding the Rules package, which will include a select committee on the modernization of Congress, something many advocates have worked to advance. More on the rules package below.

It would not be surprising if House Dems highlighted H.R. 1, their omnibus Democracy Reform legislation that contains major voting, ethics, and money-in-politics reforms, although the sequencing will be tricky to get media coverage.

CRS has a guide to House and Senate proceedings on day one. The House will begin with a quorum call, election of the Speaker, member swearing in, notifications of party leadership appointments, election of House officers (H. Res. 1), debate and vote on the House rules package (H. Res. 5), and announcement of committee leadership.

More detail? Here’s a transcript of what happened in the House on day one of the 115th Congress — it’s worth a skim. (The Senate, as a continuing body, doesn’t need to adopt rules.) Continue reading “Forecast for December 31, 2018. Party like it’s 2019.”

Forecast for December 24, 2018. Naughty or Nice.

THE TOP LINE

Naughty or nice. Congress is still in session, so here’s a little something to read if you’re still hanging around.

Shutdown. For the first time in years, the House and Senate got their approps work done on time and five bills enacted into law. But instead of pushing for the remaining seven, they delayed and kicked the can down the road. And now, instead of protecting the legislative branch’s prerogatives, leadership in the House and Senate caved to Pres. Trump’s politically untenable demands, aimed at keeping his base happy, shifting blame, and distracting from his administration’s scandals. How does this end? Stay tuned.

In the last days of the 115th Congress, a few good bills made it over the finish line. The amended Open Government Data Act (HR 4174) requires the government to inventory its data sets; automatically publish its public data sets online, in a machine-readable format, in a catalog; and have each CFO agency establish a Chief Data Officer. (More) The GAO-IG Act (S 2276) requires each agency to identify, in its congressional budget justification, every GAO recommendation to that agency and whether it’s been closed. As mentioned last week, a watered-down Congressional Accountability Act (link) was enacted. As was the IDEA Act (HR 5759), which would require agencies to provide better digital services.

What’s next? Hold your horses, Jeb. Besides whatever is happening with approps — and I hope Congress passes the bills it worked so hard to draft — House Dems will release their draft House rules in the next week or two, with a vote set on Jan. 3. We’ll also see appointments to many of the committees. I’d also expect introduction in both chambers of an ethics, campaign finance, and elections reform bill, known colloquially as H.R. 1.

What else? The leg branch appropriations bill requires publication of new member bio guides, a joint congressional committee calendar, the promulgation of automated witness disclosure forms, and all non-confidential CRS reports online, plus studies of staff pay and retention in the House and Senate, a study of whistleblowing resources in the House, and an analysis of Congress’s Technology Assessment function. Oh, by the end of the year the Supreme Court will release its annual report on the judiciary. And the U.S. Capitol police finally agreed to start publishing limited arrest info online.

Wait, hold on! I know you’re getting ready to move on to your post holiday shopping list, but the holidays came early with the Lincoln Network’s phenomenal guide to IT acquisitions in the legislative branch.
Continue reading “Forecast for December 24, 2018. Naughty or Nice.”

Capitol Police to Publish Some Arrest Information

The US Capitol Police announced yesterday they will publish their weekly arrest summaries online each Wednesday that they had previously had distributed via email to the press. This practice will start on January 2, 2019. The summaries will include “the Capitol File Number (CFN); crime classification with any additional charges; offense date and time, and crime summary. ”

The USCP did not give a reason for the change in their blogpost, but we had made multiple (unsuccessful) requests for information from the Capitol Police and had organized a civil society letter on this topic, and it also seemed likely that incoming House Democrats may push them to take this step. Continue reading “Capitol Police to Publish Some Arrest Information”

Forecast for December 10, 2018. Term limits for committee chairs, paying interns, and a look at the House IG.

Welcome to an abbreviated First Branch Forecast.

Today we release a new report on the House Inspector General — yes, the House has an IG. Among our findings: the House IG used to publish its reports online, but nearly all reports were taken down and there’s little public accounting for the IG’s work. What’s in them? Continue reading “Forecast for December 10, 2018. Term limits for committee chairs, paying interns, and a look at the House IG.”

Forecast for November 19, 2018. Challenges to House leadership; changes to House rules; and how new members will shape up.

THE TOP LINE

House Dems scheduled leadership elections for next week, and everyone else elected their leadership last week. Details on who was elected and what’s going on with Dems elections are below.

A draft House rules summary was unveiled last week (WaPo published it), with potentially major changes in the lower chamber. House rules rarely change in significant ways. We’ve got a roundup below.

House progressives and Rep. Pelosi reached apparent agreement on support for Pelosi as Speaker in return for significant changes in House operations. These include: (1) progressives getting proportional representation on the “A” committees (Appropriations, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, and Intelligence); (2) more leadership spots; (3) adding a budget and staff to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. There’s also changes to the House rules in the mix. Still unclear is who gets to pick the progressives to serve on these committees.

House Republicans thwarted a vote on a resolution that would have ended US military support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen; leadership used an unrelated resolution to de-privilege the Yemen resolution. If this sounds complicated, that’s the point, and it’s another example of House leadership “protecting” members from a hard vote. Casey Burgat explains how “special rules” underscore the power of leadership.

It’s freshman orientation for new House members, but despite a few good stories, there’s not a lot on what’s actually being taught to new members. It appears that Members-elect Instagram accounts are the best way to get the inside scoop. (Reminder: Instagram is owned by Facebook, which has been playing dirty politics.) So who are all these new members? The House Clerk helpfully (thank you!) has published an official list of the unofficials.

House Democratic Caucus and Republican Conference rules for the 115th Congress are here. While Republicans publish them on their website, House Dems do not, and this is the only place I know where to find them. You’re welcome. 🙂 Continue reading “Forecast for November 19, 2018. Challenges to House leadership; changes to House rules; and how new members will shape up.”