Appointments of Legislative Branch Office and Agency Heads

Written by Taylor J. Swift

There are over 30 support offices and agencies within the Legislative branch, including the Government Accountability Office, the Architect of the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the United States Capitol Police, and more. How are agency heads chosen and how are they removed?

The answer is not always clear. At times, the legislation or resolutions establishing an office do not specify how an officeholder may be removed. There are often informal practices for how appointments and removal work.

The Legislative branch itself does not have a standard approach. Some variation may be attributed to the roles of the offices, which may perform legislative, administrative, financial, and ceremonial functions. Other variations may arise from when an office was established, where it exists in the legislative branch, and whom it is intended to support. 

Understanding how senior officials are chosen provides insight into whether and how they may be held accountable, to whom they are responsive, and whether their structure implicates the balance of equities between the Executive and Legislative branches. 

We compiled a spreadsheet that contains details on the processes for selecting Legislative branch agency heads. It includes information on who selects office heads, the length of agency head tenures (if terms are set), reappointment or removal provisions (if any), and chamber roles in the appointment process. 

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Legislative Branch Funding Breakdown in the FY 2023 Omnibus Bill

The FY 2023 appropriations omnibus was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Biden. The FY 2023 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill was rolled into the package, and it is packed with good government initiatives and significant investments in Congress’s capacity to legislate, conduct oversight, serve constituents, and more.

We and our civil society colleagues recommended dozens of items to include as part of the bill text and committee report — see our FY 2023 Appropriations requests, FY 2023 appropriations testimony, and 2022 report on updating House Rules — many of which appropriators graciously considered and included.

As Congress turns to the FY 2024 appropriations process, this blogpost highlights some of the notable funding changes reflected in the FY 2023 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill. You can find the complete FY 2023 Legislative Branch portion of the bill here and the Joint Explanatory Statement here. The Senate summary can be found here and the House summary can be found here. For resources on prior Legislative Branch Appropriations bills, go here. In a future blogpost, we will look at the report language.

You can compare final line item funding for FY 2021 versus FY 2022 versus FY 2023 by looking at our spreadsheet.

The FY 2023 Legislative Branch bill appropriates $6.9 billion towards the Legislative Branch, a $975.0 million increase over FY 2022, representing 16.5% increase.

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House Staff Overtime Pay Approved

Within a week of our action with allies Congressional Progressive Staff Association (CPSA) and the Congressional Workers Union, the House approved overtime pay regulations for House staff to go into effect next year.

Outgoing CHA Chair Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced a resolution Monday to implement the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) regulations to update Fair Labor Standards Act overtime provisions for congressional staff with a “nifty procedural move” according to CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa.

This is one of many reforms the House has passed this year to improve congressional staff pay and benefits that we have championed.

“This is an incredible investment in the congressional workforce and affirms the House’s commitment to improve workplace conditions, benefits, and pay for congressional staff” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor at Demand Progress. “This has been a paramount year for improving staffers’ rights in the House, and now it’s time for the Senate to take action to ensure their staff have the same overtime pay rights. We applaud congressional leadership for approving this overtime pay provision, and we laud outgoing CHA Chair Lofgren for her swift action to include it in the Continuing Resolution.”

We will continue to work with our coalition partners on the Hill to ensure Senate staff can enjoy the same rights.

Proposals for Modernizing House Rules — Summary of Committee Members’ Day Recs for 118th Congress

Written by Taylor J. Swift

At the start of the 118th Congress, the House of Representatives will adopt new procedural rules that govern nearly every aspect of how it conducts business. In preparation, the House Rules Committee held its Member Day hearing (announcement, video) on Tuesday, November 28, 2022, to provide members of the House an opportunity to propose new Rules changes for the 118th Congress. 

Members made several laudable recommendations during the proceeding:

  • Rep. Davidson’s proposal to grant one staffer from each House office the ability to apply for TS/SCI clearance.
  • Rep. Timmon’s recommendation to fix committee scheduling by creating an online portal for committee chairs to pick and choose hearing and markup times to help reduce scheduling conflicts.
  • Rep. Griffith’s idea to have proportional representation on committees.
  • Rep. Joyce’s proposal to establish a bipartisan ethics task force to study ethics rules and regulations.
  • Del. Radewagen’s support for keeping the rule to allow delegates and resident commissioners to vote in the committee as a whole

At the end of the Member Day hearing, multiple members, including Chair McGovern, urged the 118th House Rules to retain the ability for remote committee proceedings, a proposal we support. Reps. Jackson Lee and Grijalva submitted statements for the record supporting remote committee proceedings while Chair McGovern said he has heard from many members that remote committee proceedings have been helpful in obtaining witness testimony without the worry of travel or cost of the taxpayer. 

Demand Progress and the Lincoln Network issued our own bipartisan recommendations package on what Rules should be updated in the 118th Congress in anticipation of this hearing. 

The following is a high-level summary of each member’s requests and their justifications (with corresponding timestamps from the video). Please note that at the time of this writing, any submissions in writing by the members were not publicly available.

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Members of Congress on Mastodon

Fourteen years ago, an organization I was involved with pushed to change congressional rules to allow members of Congress onto Twitter. Like many of the starry-eyed democracy and technology efforts of that era, we saw the potential upside — closing the gaps between elected officials and the people they represent, allowing movements to push their governments to liberalize their policies — but we did not anticipate the potential downside, especially how Twitter would weaponize its algorithms to elevate the worst in people in pursuit of “engagement” and money.

Twitter became, in part, the crossroads between politicians, journalists, civil society, and notable individuals in our society. But it has become a toxic cesspool that aided the rise of authoritarianism.

For many years social entrepreneurs have sought to elevate the virtues of micro-blogging platforms while ameliorating the downside. The Fediverse, and Mastodon most notable, is one such example.

A forthcoming blogpost will address some of the many lessons we’ve learned since the early days of “let our Congress tweet,” especially how the Congress — and the federal government writ large — should support engagement on those platforms.

For now, we’re tracking as Members of Congress, congressional committees, leadership offices, and non-partisan legislative branch offices make the plunge onto Mastodon.

Our spreadsheet listing elected officials on Mastodon is below and available at this link. We are working to verify congressional offices so that we can confirm it is an official account. We verify the account either by receiving an email from an official congressional address to my email account, [email protected], or if they’ve updated their Twitter bio to include their official Mastodon email address.

Statement on Senate Judiciary Subcmte Hearing: “Office of Legal Counsel’s Role in Shaping Executive Privilege Doctrine”

Today at 2 PM ET, the Senate Judiciary subcommittee is holding a hearing entitled “The Office of Legal Counsel’s Role in Shaping Executive Privilege Doctrine” with OLC’s Assistant Attorney General Christopher Schroeder as the sole witness. 

Given that secrecy is an all-too-common aspect of the OLC’s work, and that its secrecy has at times undermined the rule of law and the operations of that office, we will be watching for any insights about how the subcmte would promote disclosure of OLC opinions as an antidote. Congress should act now to lock-in transparency of OLC opinions

This position in favor of transparency was embraced by AAG Schroeder before he was appointed and confirmed to his current role, as well as by a number of attorneys who formerly worked in the Office of Legal Counsel. They have pointed to abuses of the OLC process by that office’s issuing opinions that “arguably distort the separation of powers by brooking no recognition for Congress’s prerogatives as a co-equal branch, in high-visibility disputes with Congress over politically charged legal questions.”

Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund, said: “OLC is a major mechanism by which Congress’s powers are diluted, limited, and ignored. Its opinions should be proactively disclosed to protect our democracy and the rule of law. There is no reason for Congress to wait to move on any of the three off-the-shelf ready-to-go OLC transparency reforms that have bipartisan coalition support.”  

Those reforms include: 

  1. authorizing legislation (Demanding Oversight and Justification Over Legal Conclusions Transparency Act or the DOJ OLC Transparency Act, S. 3858, and its companion House bill, the SUNLIGHT Act of 2022, H.R. 7619.
  2. the Duckworth amendment to the FY2023 NDAA (S.Amdt. 6246 to H.R. 7900);
  3. the directive in the appropriations committee report (H. Rept. 117-395, p. 59) accompanying the House’s FY 2023 appropriations bill for the DOJ.

And of course, Schroeder could proactively update the OLC’s “Best Practices” memorandum to instate proactive disclosure of OLC opinions without waiting for Congressional direction. Let’s not forget that in 2004, he was one of 18 former senior DOJ officials who signed a document entitled Principles to Guide the Office of Legal Counsel that specifically said: “OLC should publicly disclose its written legal opinions in a timely manner, absent strong reasons for delay or nondisclosure.”

Also, don’t miss the American Constitution Society’s Statement on OLC opinions, to which many former OLC attorneys contributed, that identifies many problems with OLC’s non-transparency practices — including harm to the office itself — and recommends “the Office should demonstrate its commitment to ensuring executive branch accountability through transparency by articulating a strong presumption in favor of publishing its final formal opinions.”

When Schroeder was a nominee in 2021, Demand Progress led a bipartisan coalition including Americans for Prosperity, the National Taxpayers Union, and the Federation of American Scientists that called for the OLC to adopt a policy of proactively disclosing OLC opinions. We’ve also testified to the Senate requesting OLC transparency language be included in the CJS Approps subcommittee bill — such language was included in the House; and the pending Duckworth-Leahy DOJ OLC Transparency Act.

Today’s hearing is described as focusing on the Executive branch’s views on the executive privilege doctrine, and is reportedly a follow-up to the previous executive privilege hearing in August 2021, during which several witnesses pointed to the OLC as the primary driver of executive privilege doctrine in the Executive branch and identified OLC as partly responsible for the increasingly aggressive legal positions the Executive branch has taken to thwart Congressional oversight in recent years.

The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights Updates its Overtime Regulations, but Congress Must Approve the Changes

On September 28, 2022, the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) announced its Board of Directors voted to update regulations implementing the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The OCWR Board of Directors also called on Congress to approve the proposed changes in the Congressional Record

The current FLSA regulations that apply to Congress were issued by the Office of Compliance (the previous name of the OCWR) back in 1996. In its recent press release, the OCWR said the 1996 regulations are “woefully outdated” and the new regulations will modernize the overtime provisions to bring Legislative branch employees’ overtime pay to parity with the Executive branch and the private sector. 

The updated proposed regulations are here, and the current regulations are available here.

In March 2021, the OCWR Board of Directors issued its Section 102(b) report for the 117th Congress. The reports provides several recommendations that have not been implemented within the Legislative branch, as well as additional recommendations to amend the CAA to increase transparency and workforce protections. Some of the recommendations include:

  • Providing general whistleblower protections and anti-retaliation measures and making additional OSHA retaliation provisions applicable to the Legislative branch.
  • Providing subpoena authority to OCWR to conduct inspections and investigations into OSHA violations.
  • Prohibiting Legislative branch offices from making adverse employment decisions on the basis of an employee’s wage garnishment or involvement in bankruptcy proceedings.
  • Bolstering the CAA’s recordkeeping requirements.

In August 2022, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced legislation, the Congress Leads by Example Act of 2022 (H.R. 8743), that would put into effect recommendations from the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. Del. Norton has introduced a version of this bill every Congress since 2011.

Congress should look to pass H.R. 8742 and the updated OCWR regulations during the lame duck period. 

United States Capitol in Washington DC

First Branch Forecast for September 26, 2022: Rules Power Play

TOP LINE

Where will power reside in the next Congress? And what systems of control will delegate and manage that power? These are core questions to understanding the legislative branch at any time, of course. But the answers to those questions may be shifting, perhaps faster than anticipated and in ways that fundamentally change our current politics.

This week the House and Senate observe Rosh Hashanah Monday. The House returns Wednesday night for votes the rest of the week, the most pressing being a stopgap funding bill to carry the Federal government beyond September. The body also may consider revisions to the STOCK Act and we spy a bill changing the GPO Director’s service to 10-year renewal terms. The Senate returns on Tuesday.

In committee, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee will markup the Electoral Count Act (S.4573) on Tuesday. Senate HSGAC will meet on Wednesday to vote on the nomination of Colleen Shogan to be Archivist of the United States and a bill amending the Lobbying Disclosure Act regarding exemptions under FARA.

The House January 6th Committee will hold a public hearing on Wednesday at 1:00 PM.

Down the line, the Senate is still on track to be in session the first two weeks of October, with authorizing the NDAA looming.

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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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Agencies Get Marching Orders on Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act

The Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act, which Demand Progress supported and became law last year, is coming into its own. The law requires (1) the publication of all agency Congressional Justifications on USASpending.org within two weeks of their submission to a house of Congress; (2) CJ publication at a vanity URL on the agency website; and (3) online tracking of when the reports were due to be submitted and whether they were published online on time.

OMB just released an update to Circular A-11 that, for the first time, contains updated guidance in section 22.6(c) that will put the law into effect. This has been a long time coming, as OMB had resisted requests from appropriators to ensure that the reports are published online in a central location, intended to address both linkrot (when a URL goes dead) and that there was no central place to find all the reports. They’ll also have to have their data published in a structured format.

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