What’s Next? Recap of the Final House Modernization Committee Hearing

Written by Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor with Demand Progress Education Fund

There was a feeling of serendipity during this week’s final Select Committee on the  Modernization of Congress hearing, where Members, witnesses, and staff all gathered to discuss the work of the committee and what the future may look like for this work. The Committee — or ModCom — has been working for the past two Congresses to examine ways to make the institution more modern, efficient, and transparent. It favorably reported over 170 recommendations with more on the way. It also recently introduced its second resolution which contains 32 recommendations. The hearing felt like the culmination of everything the committee, its staff, and its stakeholder groups have been working towards. 

The question on the table was: where does this modernization work go from here?

Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor was the first committee witness. Her testimony focused how the CAO has implemented several of the ModCom recommendations to strengthen the House, its offices, and its workforce. Whether it’s the creation of the Human Resources Hub, the House Resume Bank, the House Digital Service; the adoption of Quill — an online e-signature platform; and investment in staff training through the CAO Coach program, Szpindor comprehensively outlined how her office has listened to the committee and followed through on its commitments to foster a more modern, transparent, an inclusive workplace. Szpindor mentioned during the discussion portion that the CAO has monthly status meetings with stakeholders and staff regarding implementation tracking. The CAO also uses an internal tracker called ClickUp to keep things organized. 

Diane Hill of the Partnership for Public Service was the committee witness representing the Fix Congress Cohort, a group of over four dozen civil society groups and academics that includes Demand Progress. Hill’s testimony centered around providing four different avenues for which the modernization work can continue, including providing a pathway for ModCom’s recommendations to be implemented past the 117th Congress. Hill’s testimony mirrors some of the recommendations that we made for the future of this work. The four options in Hill’s testimony included:

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Demand Progress Proposals Included in FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Bills and Explanatory Statement

On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy published 12 appropriations bills and accompanying explanatory statements, including the FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and explanatory statement. These measures will not go through the traditional hearing and mark-up process. The bill and explanatory statement are packed with good government reforms and significant investments in Congressional operations. 

We and our civil society colleagues recommended dozens of items to include — see our FY 2023 Appropriations requests, FY 2023 appropriations testimony, and report on updating House Rules for the 117th Congress — a number of which made it into the bill and report. We are deeply appreciative of Chair Jack Reed, Ranking Member Mike Braun, and members of the committee for their consideration of our requests.

Read more:

There are a few provisions in the Senate Legislative Branch Subcommittee bill and explanatory statement to note as the Senate is now moving through its appropriations process. They include:

  • Strong investments in staff pay and benefits, including an increase in the SOPOEA to allow Senators to pay their full-time staff a $45,000 salary minimum, as well as the creation of a bipartisan diversity and inclusion working group.
  • More resources for improving legislative branch access to Executive branch information, including the creation of a new joint CBO, LOC, and GAO working group to examine the issues of legislative data access between the Legislative branch and Executive branch agencies.
  • Heightened funding for congressional operations, including creating a centralized repository for Senate documents where legislative information would be available prior to or contemporaneously with decisions; enhancing tracking of legislation on Congress.gov; improved floor scheduling information on Congress.gov; as well as improving reporting of lobbyists’ activities.
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Items Included In FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Explanatory Statement

On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy published 12 appropriations bills and accompanying explanatory statements, including the FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and explanatory statement.

To help keep track of all explanatory statement items requested by the Senate Legislative Branch Subcommittee, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of items, broken down by title, the entity responsible, the timeline for completion, and the due date. See the spreadsheet here and below:

Demand Progress Action and Congressional Progressive Staff Association Call on Senate Leadership to Increase Staff Pay Floor to $45,000

The CPSA letter was signed by 150 current congressional staffers, while the letter led by the advocacy organization Demand Progress Action was signed by over 15 organizations.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Congressional Progressive Staff Association (CPSA) and Demand Progress Action sent two letters to Senator Pro-Tempore Patrick Leahy and Senate Leadership calling for the upper chamber to match the House’s commitment to paying their staff a minimum salary of $45,000 a year.

Following the release of CPSA’s survey data analyzing workplace conditions of over 500 staffers in both the House and Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a pay floor of $45,000 for all congressional staffers in the House. This will officially become House policy on September 1st, but thousands of staffers in the Senate will still be making less than $45,000 a year without further action from Senate Leadership.

Writing as the “staffers who make up the fabric of your offices,” the signers of the letter say that “establishing a minimum salary floor of $45,000 for Senate staff would be a welcome change for the staffers who commit their lives to this institution. Like House staffers, Senate staff struggle to pay rent, bills, and keep food on the table. 

Compensating Senate staff fairly would not only enable current staff to keep their heads above water while the cost of living rises across the country, but it would also open more doors in the halls of Congress to those who wish to make their country a better place.

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First Branch Forecast for July 18, 2022: Accumulation of Facts

TOP LINE

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 Intel will mark up the Intelligence Authorization Act (H.R.5412) at 10 AM

• 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

• Senate Rules will hold a hearing on the DISCLOSE Act (S.443) at 3 PM

• 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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Video – The Power of Unions in Congress: Know Your Rights

Demand Progress Education Fund hosted a virtual event on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, titled “The Power in Unions in Congress: Know Your Rights.” The event featured recorded remarks from Representative Andy Levin, lead sponsor of the House congressional unionization resolution.

Panelists helped clarify what rights and protections will be granted to congressional staffers, what will happen when staffers officially unionize their offices, and also discussed the history of the unionization movement in Congress.

The distinguished panel included:

Katherine Tully-McManus, Politico Huddle (moderator)

Rep. Andy Levin, lead sponsor of the House unionization resolution (opening remarks)

Jeff Friday, general counsel at the National Federation of Federal Employees

Kevin Mulshine, former counsel at the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights

Yvette Piacsek, deputy general counsel at National Federation of Federal Employees, IAMAW, AFL-CIO

Taylor J. Swift, policy advisor at Demand Progress (event host)

Watch the full discussion below.

First Branch Forecast for July 11, 2022: The Plot Thickens

TOP LINE

This week. There are just a few weeks left until August recess — three in the House, four in the Senate — which means everything’s accelerating.

• They’re back. The Senate is back on Monday and the House is back on Tuesday. It’s NDAA week in the House (amendments are here); Senate Dems appear to be lining up another stab at reconciliation. On suspension in the House is the Improving Government for America’s Taxpayers Act, which strengthens how GAO reports to Congress on open priority recommendations. (Maybe the Senate should be thinking about hotlining the bill?)

• Looking at the committee calendar, we note a Thursday ModCom hearing on modernizing constituent services. Also, join our panel discussion on congressional unionization Wednesday, which anticipates the regs going into effect next Monday. (CPSA & DWS happy hour this Friday at 6 — coincidence?)

• Looking ahead, the House will vote on an approps package of six bills, i.e., HR 8294 containing transportation, agriculture, energy and water, financial services, environment, and military construction, the week of July 18th, according to BGOV ($). Submit your amendments to House Rules by this Wednesday at 10 AM. Presumably we will see a Senate approps markup or release of their bills in the next few weeks, and possibly a floor vote on the other 6 House approps bills — watch for triangulation on defense spending. Also watch out for a Joe Manchin-sized reconciliation package, which in theory could happen any day now.

Do you have a pet bill that must move in the next few weeks or risk dying at the end of this Congress? We’re keeping informal track of bills to strengthen Congress, promote government transparency, and bring balance to the force. Just hit reply — yes, those all go to me — with the bill name, number, and why there oughta be a law (or a resolution). We’ll feature (anonymously) some of those bills-on-the-bubble in the hopes it might spur a Senate hotline or House suspension.

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Event Announcement – The Power of Unions in Congress: Know Your Rights

How does unionization work in Congress? What’s the history behind this congressional unionization movement? What rights will be granted to me as a congressional employee? 

There’s a lot of information — and misinformation — out there. With the July 18 deadline for the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to implement the resolution that grants House staff the right to organize quickly approaching, Demand Progress Education Fund is convening several government labor experts to discuss various rights and protections offered to staff to empower congressional staff with the knowledge they need to successfully implement unions in the House of Representatives. 

Join Demand Progress Education Fund for a virtual briefing that will include remarks from Representative Andy Levin and top government labor experts on making unions work in Congress. Panelists will clarify what rights and protections will be granted to congressional staffers, what will happen when staffers officially unionize their offices, and will also discuss the history of the unionization movement in Congress. 

RSVP here

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Demand Progress Proposals Included in FY 2023 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bills and Report

On Wednesday, June 22, 2022, the full House Appropriations Committee favorably (32-26) reported the FY 2023 Legislative Branch Subcommittee Bill (with amendments) and committee report. They are packed with good government reforms and significant investments in Congress’s capacity to legislate, conduct oversight, serve constituents, and more.

We and our civil society colleagues made recommendations of dozens of items to include — see our FY 2023 Appropriations requests, FY 2023 appropriations testimony, and report on updating House Rules for the 117th Congress — a number of which made it into the bill and report. We are deeply appreciative of Chair Ryan, Ranking Member Herrera Beutler, and members of the committee for their consideration of our requests. For resources on prior Legislative Branch Appropriations bills, go here.

We already have published summaries of what the House included in its FY 2023 Leg Branch Approps bill text, and you can see the changes in the appropriations line items here

As the Senate considers what to include in its Legislative Branch Subcommittee bill and report, we highlight a few provisions in the House bill that the Senate should consider for itself. They include:

  • Creation of new offices to enhance diversity and inclusion, specifically the creation of the House Intern Resource Office and the Office of Translation Services.
  • Strong investments in staff benefits and care, specifically child care, emergency care (which now include custodial and contract workers), and student loan repayments.
  • Heightened funding for technology and modernization projects, specifically the congressional staff directory, collaborative legislative drafting tools, standardization of legislative documents, and separate technology modernization fund. 

Although we were unable to include everything below, you can find a complete list of FY 2023 Legislative Branch Appropriations report items in a comprehensive spreadsheet. The following are some of the highlights. 

Appropriations Spreadsheet

To help keep track of all items requested by the Legislative Branch Subcommittee, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of items, broken down by title, the entity responsible, the timeline for completion, and the due date. See the spreadsheet here and below:

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First Reactions to the Draft FY 2023 House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Bill

The House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee today released its draft FY 2023 appropriations bill accompanied by a press release. The subcommittee markup is tomorrow at 11 am ET — the full committee vote is next Wednesday — and we won’t know what is in the committee report until the day before the full committee markup. We reviewed the legislation and compared the proposed funding to the enacted levels from prior years. (If you’re interested in the documents from prior Congresses, we have compiled them here.)

At first glance, this bill is packed with many smart funding decisions that will help strengthen Congress. In particular, we noticed significant adjustments to personal, committee, and leadership staff funding; improving the intern pipeline by providing a living wage and the creation of a new intern resource office; a significant investment in modernizing the House’s technology and implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, and providing adequate funding to support the House unionization process. There are also significant changes in funding levels for offices and policy agencies, including the GAO. We also note tremendous amounts of new money for the Capitol Police and the Architect. 

We applaud the hard work of Chair Ryan, Ranking Member Herrera Buetler, and all members of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee who have demonstrated good stewardship of the Legislative branch. We look forward to seeing the many provisions that will be contained in the committee report and reflect more granular decisions concerning improving Legislative branch operations. 

Appropriators have proposed a $5.7 billion funding level, which is a $954.4 million increase over FY 2022, or a 20.1 percent increase. Please note that this does not include funding for the Senate, which will add approximately $1 billion dollars. A whopping 71.4% of the increase will go to the Capitol Police and Architect. This raises significant concerns with us, most notably because historically funding for the USCP and the Architect has resulted in significant decreases in funding for Congress’s policy apparatus, which will become more of a problem in subsequent years.

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