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.)
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.