August Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?

On March 10th, which seems like a lifetime ago, the House passed H.Res 756, adopting modernization recommendations of the Fix Congress Committee. The resolution included 29 recommendations that were unanimously reported by the Modernization Committee last year. The resolution calls on legislative support offices to start a number of projects and report back on how to implement others. 

On July 10th, the Committee on House Administration released a series of congressional reports that were due in H.Res 756. We continue to catalogue the projects and their due dates into a public spreadsheet, and have them broken down by items. 

Continue reading “August Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?”

Forecast for July 27, 2020

THE TOP LINE

CODA — Covid, Defense, and Approps — are the “must pass” summer blockbuster legislation (we miss movies) that lurched forward in both chambers. Sort of. But how does it end? We’re betting there will be sequels.

11 of the 12 appropriations bills passed or are scheduled for a vote in the House. The Senate has made no apparent progress: senate bills have yet to be considered in committee and the fiscal year ends September 30. A continuing resolution is pretty much inevitable, and CRs themselves incur significant costs to agencies.

Congress did not fund itself. The Legislative Branch approps bill was the only approps bill (so far) not set for House floor consideration

The NDAA passed the House and Senate (each chamber considered about 750 amendments), but those two versions now have to be reconciled. Plus the President indicated he may veto because of renaming bases.

The Senate failed to release its latest coronavirus relief package. House Dems are pushing to pass by July 31, i.e., this Friday, when the enhanced federal unemployment payments end, to which Leader McConnell laughed. As of this writing, 146,000 Americans have died.

Congressman John Lewis will lie in state at the Capitol. Details here.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 27, 2020”

House CJS Appropriations Report Calls for Greater Transparency of Office of Legal Counsel Opinions

The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) serves as legal advisor to the president and executive branch agencies. OLC issues legal opinions and often acts as the final authority on how laws are to be interpreted. 

However, these legal opinions and how they are analyzed are often withheld from Congress and the public. In fact, the few OLC opinions that have become publicly available often reveal that they undermine federal legislation and reinterpret the Constitution to expand executive branch power. 

When opinions are kept secret, there is no way to know what opinions exist and Congress is unable to determine how the executive branch is interpreting the law, creating an imbalance of power between the branches. In sum, there’s no space for secret law, and OLC opinions can be a gateway to lawlessness.

Congress has struggled to access OLC opinions, and for years civil society has been pushing to make these reports available. However, there are avenues that Congress can take to bring much needed transparency and accountability to OLC opinions. 

Continue reading “House CJS Appropriations Report Calls for Greater Transparency of Office of Legal Counsel Opinions”

116th Congress Update: How Senate Committees Get Their Money

(This is an update of a 2019 article on how Senate Committees are funded. It has been updated for the 116th Congress.) 

UPDATED TRENDS IN SENATE COMMITTEE FUNDING

How do Senate committees get their funding and how has funding changed over the last 25 years? We crunched the numbers for you and here are the highlights:

  • Senate Committee spending saw a slight uptick in funding this session, but is still well short of its peak 2010 funding. 
  • Appropriations continues to reign; the committee gets the largest portion of the funding and doesn’t have to ask for money.
  • Every Senate Committee experienced an increase in spending between the 106th and 116th Congresses in inflation adjusted dollars, with each committee seeing at least a 50% increase in funding since 1999.
  • While Senate Committees are still struggling with scarce funding, they’re in much better shape than House committees, which have seen draconian cuts since 2010.
Continue reading “116th Congress Update: How Senate Committees Get Their Money”

Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?

On March 10th, the House passed H.Res 756, adopting modernization recommendations of the Fix Congress Committee. The resolution included 29 recommendations that were unanimously reported by the Modernization Committee last year. The resolution calls on legislative support offices to start a number of projects and report back on how to implement others. 

The resolution contains five titles: (1) streamlining and reorganizing human resources; (2) improving orientation for members-elect and providing improved continuing education opportunities for members; (3) modernizing and revitalizing technology; (4) making the House accessible to all; and (5) improving access to documents and publications. It also states that, whenever practical, the House Administration Committee will publish any report required under this resolution online. 

Accordingly, on July 10th, the Committee on House Administration released a series of congressional reports that were due in H.Res 756. Those reports include:

CAO

Feasibility of Establishing a Congressional Staff Academy Needs Assessment

Clerk of the House

Adopting Standardized Format for Legislative Documents

Legislative Comparison Project

Assignment of Unique Identifiers for Reports Filed by Legislative Lobbyists

Database of information on the expiration dates of all Federal programs

Database of votes taken in committees

Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Operations Plan as Submitted

Committee on House Administration Committee Resolution 116-21

We applaud the release of these reports to the public to help give a better understanding of the implementation of various recommendations from the Modernization Committee resolution. We continue to catalogue the projects and their due dates into a public spreadsheet, and have them broken down by items due below.

Continue reading “Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?”

Forecast for July 13, 2020.

THE TOP LINE
Congress may finally have begun investing in itself — House appropriators favorably reported a 5% increase in funding for the Legislative Branch. That’s half of the 10% increase sought by good government types (like us), and while Congress is still significantly below its funding level from a decade again, we are starting to dig out of the hole. Read Zach Graves on the conservative case for increased policy capacity, and please thank your nearest appropriator, especially those on Leg. Branch.

Money isn’t everything (but it’s really important). Approps bills and reports set policy and direct agencies, and in the Leg. Branch approps bill, the House took a major step towards reclaiming its power of the purse by strengthening GAO and putting in place scores of improvements to congressional operations. More below.

The rules behind the power. Party rules and customs determine committee chairs, policy, and which legislation gets a vote. House Dems finally released their caucus rules (thanks! even if it took 500 days from our request). We’re going to keep digging into the caucus rules, who serves on the steering and policy committee, and the secret rules under which it operates.

Power switch. The House continues to use proxy voting, which some view as having the effect of consolidating power in the hands of leadership while avoiding the worse fate of a defunct Congress. This Friday, House Admin will hold a hearing on remote voting, which could be a step towards turning on the power of the House to deliberate fully in virtual session. Given what’s happening in the world, this is a wise course of action.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 13, 2020.”

The Complete Guide to What We Know (And Don’t Know) About the U.S. Capitol Police

The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) has a critical mission of protecting Congress — Members, employees, and visitors — so constitutionally mandated business can be carried out in a safe and open environment. USCP has a massive $464 million budget for FY 2020 and 2,514 employees, of whom 2,060 are sworn personnel. By comparison, the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is funded at $556 million and has 3,851 sworn officers.

Unlike the vast majority of local police forces, the USCP provides little public information about its activities. The Capitol Police is part of the Legislative Branch, which means it’s under no obligation to answer records requests and is not subject to Freedom of Information of law. Additionally, the department does not publish annual reports on its activities; does not publish reports from its oversight body, the Capitol Police Board, nor the USCP Inspector General; does not proactively publish its annual statistical summary of complaints drawn from Office of Professional Responsibility records; and only began in December 2018 publishing sparse information concerning its weekly arrests.

To help illuminate the operations and disclosures from the agency, our team has spent significant time over the past several years gathering information, including statements of disbursements, jurisdiction and responsibilities, and arrest report data. We also have written letters to the department requesting further information disclosures and submitted testimony to the Leg. Branch Subcommittee requesting heightened transparency regarding USCP arrest information, press releases, and announcements. 

Continue reading “The Complete Guide to What We Know (And Don’t Know) About the U.S. Capitol Police”

June Update: Legislative Branch FY2020 Appropriations Items Due Dates

Late last year, Congress passed the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for FY 2020, starting the clock on dozens of Leg. Branch projects and reports across several legislative agencies. 

In January, our team reviewed requests from the Leg. Branch approps bill, broke them down by entity, and organized each of the deadlines. All requests are organized in a comprehensive spreadsheet that can be accessed here.

At the beginning of every month, our team provides updates of what items are due from the Leg. Branch appropriations bill, broken down by entity. Our previous installments include due dates for March and April (May had zero items to report). Each article also includes which items were due during the previous month at the end of the post. 

Expected This Month

Below are the three items that are expected in June 2020:

Continue reading “June Update: Legislative Branch FY2020 Appropriations Items Due Dates”

Continuity of Congress: A Timeline of Remote Deliberations and Voting

Congress has been mostly absent as the country fights against the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic began, many lawmakers, outside organizations, and former Members of Congress encouraged the legislative branch to instantiate remote deliberations and voting measures in the event of an emergency. 

The following is a timeline of many of the recent key events concerning Continuity of Congress during a pandemic. More information can be found at continuityofcongress.org

Continue reading “Continuity of Congress: A Timeline of Remote Deliberations and Voting”

Where Each Member Stands on Remote Voting in Congress

Congress must change its rules to temporarily enable Members to vote remotely to ensure continuity of Congress.

Where Does Each Member Stand Two Weeks Later?

(Update, 04/10/20 11:48am): Two weeks ago, our team compiled a database to keep track of Members in the House and Senate who support emergency remote voting. 

Support for remote voting measures has grown significantly over the past two weeks. On April 2, the New Democrat Coalition Caucus wrote a letter to leadership urging them to engage in new remote measures. Then, on April 7, the Problem Solvers Caucus sent a bipartisan letter to leadership imploring the House to consider measures to enable Members to work remotely, including voting by phone or videoconference, or having voting machines installed in district offices.

Despite this bipartisan push by Rank and File Members and various caucuses, leadership is still against making any changes to the rules to enable remote voting in Congress. Speaker Pelosi indicated that the House most likely will not come back on its originally planned date of April 20, further disabling Congress’ ability to conduct regular business, schedule for its next round of appropriations, and conduct oversight of the executive branch.

Here are the key findings after two weeks:

  • 42 additional Representatives support remote voting. (23 Democrats and 19 Republicans).
  • In total, 111 Representatives support remote voting (88 Democrats and 23 Republicans).
  • No additional support in the Senate (18 total: 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans).
Continue reading “Where Each Member Stands on Remote Voting in Congress”