The Congress’s Edifice Problem

According to the Architect of the Capitol, it will take several billion dollars to keep the Congress from literally falling apart. This, and much more, was the subject of four legislative branch appropriations hearings this past week.

It’s not just the physical infrastructure of Congress that’s eroding, the power of the institution has taken a hit over the years with budget cuts. The result has been executive branch overreach as well as cyber security and IT practices falling miles behind best practices.

The legislative branch appropriations subcommittee in charge of doling out the funds that keep the branch functioning has the smallest pot of money to work with in the federal government: last year its funding was only approximately $4.3 billion, with overall federal spending about 1000x greater at $4.3 trillion.

To put this in context, $1.244 trillion was allocated to the 12 appropriations committees for FY 2019. The amount for the legislative branch is so small you can’t see it on the chart — it’s the bright green sliver. Here’s the amounts from least to greatest: Legislative Branch ($4.8b), Agriculture ($23b), Financial Services ($23b), Interior & Environment ($35.6b), Energy & Water ($44.6b), State & Foreign Ops ($46.2b), Homeland Security ($49.4b), Commerce & Science & Justice ($64.1b), Transportation & HUD ($71.1b), Military Construction & VA ($97.1b), Labor & HHS & Education ($178.1b), Defense ($606.5b). (There’s an additional $77b for “Overseas Contingent Operations,” of which $67.9b went to Defense.)

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This week the House Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittee heard from four legislative branch agencies—the Architect of the Capitol (the OG ‘AOC’), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Government Publishing Office (GPO)—where lawmakers and agency-heads alike emphasized the importance of congressional strength and independence. GAO Comptroller Gene Dodaro explained:

Congress has put itself at [an] increasingly disadvantage[d] position in providing oversight over the executive branch…[it] has reduced its own staff, it’s reduced staff at legislative support agencies, and testifying before this committee over the years I’ve always said that I think that that’s a mistake…Even at its height, [the] legislative branch is so out-personed, if you will, compared to the executive branch, it’s hard to conduct oversight…[as] contemplated by the constitution.

Want to know what agency heads asked for but don’t want to watch four hours of hearings yourself? We’ve got the details below.

Continue reading “The Congress’s Edifice Problem”

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”

CRS Publishes Some of its Reports, With Promises of More to Come

A subset of current CRS reports was published online by the Library of Congress on Tuesday. While federal law mandated the Library publish by September 18 any non-confidential final written work product of CRS containing research or analysis in any format that is available for general congressional access and that was published after the date of enactment of the legislation on the CRS Congressional Intranet, CRS published only the R series reports, totalling in the low six hundreds. As longtime CRS watcher and report publisher Steven Aftergood noted, “other CRS product lines — including CRS In Focus, CRS Insight, and CRS Legal Sidebar — are not currently available through the public portal.”

The Librarian of Congress implicitly addressed this gap in her blogpost, writing “we worked closely with Congress to make sure that we had a mutual understanding of the law’s requirements,” hinting at a behind-the-scenes agreement with appropriators. It could also be a response to criticism leveled by us (with R Street and GovTrack) concerning problems in the Library’s implementation plan. Continue reading “CRS Publishes Some of its Reports, With Promises of More to Come”

Coming Soon: A Unified Congressional Meetings Calendar

Unnoticed elsewhere but celebrated here, the Library of Congress must update its website to include a unified calendar for Senate and House of Representatives committee hearings and markups. The deadline is 90 days after enactment of the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill, which was on September 21, which means it must be up by Friday, December 21st.

Continue reading “Coming Soon: A Unified Congressional Meetings Calendar”

Finally, The Constitution (Annotated) In Your Virtual Pocket

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On the 231st anniversary of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention signing the U.S. Constitution, we’re pleased to share the good news that Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (LII) will today publish Congress’s legal treatise that explains how the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution.

The treatise, known as the Constitution Annotated, is prepared by the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service and is published by the Government Publishing Office. Unfortunately, they do this poorly, as we describe below. For nine years we’ve asked the Library of Congress to do better, and since they have not answered those calls, Cornell’s LII has stepped up to the plate. Continue reading “Finally, The Constitution (Annotated) In Your Virtual Pocket”

What does Rep. Collins’ exit say about the Speaker’s power to police member behavior?

Rep. Collins was arrested for insider trading every news outlet on earth reported, but that’s not the most interesting part. Immediately after his arrest, Speaker Ryan released a statement that said, in passive voice, “Until this matter is settled, Rep. Collins will not be serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.” Multiple news outlets described what happened as Ryan stripping Collins of his committee membership. At least in a technical sense, that’s not possible. Continue reading “What does Rep. Collins’ exit say about the Speaker’s power to police member behavior?”