First Branch Forecast: Democratic slippage, court accountability, and the mother of parliaments 11/29/2021

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Welcome‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌First‌ ‌Branch‌ ‌Forecast,‌ ‌your‌ ‌regular‌ ‌look‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌branch‌ ‌and‌ government ‌transparency.‌ ‌Tell ‌your‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ subscribe.

THE TOP LINE

Welcome back. The Senate is in today; the House is in on Tuesday, with the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act on suspension and further appropriations bills possible. We’re curious about House Oversight’s Wednesday hearing into the Future of Federal Work and Thursday’s Senate Judiciary markup that includes a judicial security bill with some concerning language and a much less fraught bill to modernize PACER.

Omicron, which you may know as a planet from Futurama but is now the COVID variant du jour, is the latest (awful) reminder of the necessity of the House and Senate being capable of working fully remotely. Yes, we’ve been making this point for a while. While we’ve seen some progress, proxy voting on the House floor is an imperfect solution and the Senate still has not grappled with the shifts in power that could occur if a single member becomes ill and cannot attend in person. We continue to track all this on ContinuityofCongress.org. On that final point, isn’t it time for the House and Senate to impose both mask and vaccination requirements for persons who work in-person?

ICYMI, there was big news last week on providing clearances for Senate staff. The House Diversity Office released two important new reports on House compensation & benefits and demographics and diversityRep. Gosar was censured and removed from his committees for tweeting a video he made depicting his murder of a House colleague, which he promptly RT’d after his censure. And serial fabulist Rep. Boebert is bucking for attention after she made up a story that suggested a House colleague is a suicide bomber because she is a Muslim.

We’re not sure what to do. There’s a constant stream of unacceptable and bizarre behavior from certain members of Congress that is both an effort to move the Overton Window of what’s normal and an effort to fundraise. We don’t want to ignore it, and thus normalize it, nor do we want to draw attention out of fear of the Streisand Effect. For example, what do you do with Rep. Greene’s introduction of a resolution to give Kyle Rittenhouse a Congressional Gold Medal? Denver’s Channel 9 News has it right.

Democratic slippage. For the first time, the US was listed as a “backsliding democracy” in the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s 2020 global democracy report, described as falling victim to authoritarian tendencies. “A historic turning point came in 2020–2021 when former President Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States. Baseless allegations of electoral fraud and related disinformation undermined fundamental trust in the electoral process, which culminated in the storming of the US Capitol building in January 2021.”

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast: Democratic slippage, court accountability, and the mother of parliaments 11/29/2021”

First Branch Forecast: Clearances, Compensation, and Censure 11/22/2021

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Welcome‌ ‌to‌ the Thanksgiving-week First‌ ‌Branch‌ ‌Forecast,‌ ‌a quick — abridged, even — ‌look‌ at ‌the‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌branch‌ ‌and‌ government ‌transparency.‌ ‌Tell ‌your‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ subscribe.

THE TOP (AND ONLY) LINE

OOO. We know most people are out, so here’s just the highlights — we’ll have a full report next week.

Clearances. Each senator can now designate one personal office aide as eligible to apply for a TS/SCI clearance and is no longer restricted to a mere TS level, a practice that had allowed the Executive branch to stonewall the nearly 2/3s of senators that did not have staffers cleared for highly classified matters. The modernization effort was led by Sen. Chris Murphy. The House, however, has not changed its policies that prevent staff from providing members the individualized support they need on highly classified matters even though there have been multiple letters on the topic and leadership is not similarly constrained. (Even members of HPSCI are not afforded personal staff with a TS/SCI clearance, unlike their SSCI counterparts who for years have been provided additional staffers that can obtain TS/SCI clearances.)

Staff pay, retention, and diversity. The House Office of Diversity and Inclusion released its 2021 study on staff pay and diversity. It’s a BFD — something we’ve wanted for years — and you should read Roll Call’s early reporting, which focuses on the significant pay decreases in personal offices. (If you want more, we’ve got an in-depth report on this topic.) It’s our understanding the Senate completed its staff pay study earlier this year, but we haven’t seen it. If you have a copy, email us at capacity@demandprogress.org.

Censure. Rep. Gosar was censured by the House and removed from his committees for tweeting a video showing him murdering a colleague; some colleagues defended him as apologizing (he didn’t) and not having bad intentions (really?). Astonishingly, party leadership did not punish him, only two fellow partisans supported his censure, and it was suggested that unnamed Democratic members will be subject to the same punishment for unnamed offenses that have not happened yet. One is reminded of Alice in Wonderland: “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.” After the censure, Rep. Gosar retweeted the video.

House Sergeant at Arms. The Defense Department IG says the new House Sergeant at Arms, when he was the head of the DC National Guard, did not act at 4:35 when authorized to deploy on Jan. 6th and had to be told a second time, raising concerns about the SAA’s accounting of events. House SAA William Walker, who also serves as a member of the U.S. Capitol Police Board, has called the report false and asked it be retracted.

The Capitol Police are not getting real scrutiny from the Jan 6th commission according to an anonymous whistleblower. We have ideas for fixes.

CLASSIFIEDS

TechCongress is accepting applications for its 2022 Congressional Innovation Scholars program, an “early-career pipeline” for technologists interested in shaping tech policy. Apply here.

ModCom. The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is hiring a clerk. Apply here.

Applications for College to Congress’ funded Capitol internship program for low-income college students open December 1st. More info here.

ODDS AND ENDS

You might be wondering why we didn’t mention the House’s passage of Build Back Better, Rep. McCarthy’s magic minute, the NDAA, the debt ceiling, and other assorted matters. What else could we say that hasn’t already been said at length? Have a great Thanksgiving. And go get your COVID booster.

First Branch Forecast: Unions, CBO, & Leahy 11/15/2021

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Welcome‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌First‌ ‌Branch‌ ‌Forecast,‌ ‌your‌ ‌regular‌ ‌look‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌branch‌ ‌and‌ government ‌transparency.‌ ‌Tell ‌your‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ subscribe.

THE TOP LINE

The House and Senate are back this week, as I’m sure you noticed.

— Senate. You’ve probably seen all the commentary on Senator Schumer’s letter on the Senate schedule for the next month or two. Of immediate interest is the Senate considering the NDAA this week — we can expect a lot of legislation will ride along — and everyone seems to agree that an appropriations Continuing Resolution is necessary, although we don’t yet know for how long. BBB and voting rights also made his list of items to do, but they entirely depend on Sens. Manchin and Sinema (even with notional bipartisan support for a VRA update).

— House. We didn’t see anything unexpected on the House’s floor schedule, although BBB is apparently (tentatively?) scheduled for a vote. I don’t know when the censure resolution for Rep. Gosar will be considered, but he has earned it. In the olden days, wouldn’t his party kick him off his committees?

Personal and committee staff could unionize under the Congressional Accountability Act, as well as be afforded other labor protections, should the House or Senate adopt a one-chamber resolution implementing regulations promulgated by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights that date back to the mid-90s, according to testimony from OCWR representatives before the House Administration Committee last week. Congressional staff work under incredibly difficult circumstances; there’s a long history of unevenly applying federal workplace laws to the Legislative branch, including labor laws, and OCWR’s testimony sharpens the political question of whether members of the House (or Senate) will push a resolution to put labor protections into effect. More below.

Contempt of Congress. We are watching the gears of the Justice Department slowly turn to address Steve Bannon’s refusal to comply with a House subpoena. Enforcement of a congressional contempt citation should not depend on the vagaries of the Justice Department. We agree with calls to modernize the statutory contempt process to include an independent counsel and an expedited review process — such provisions likely would be opposed by elements of the Executive branch, which is why they should be added to legislation the White House would be unwilling to veto (such as White House funding). We are also not fans of Executive privilege generally, and successful efforts by the White House to expand the ambit of the privilege (through DOJ’s OLC opinions) which is a matter that warrants significant attention. Just for fun: Here’s a survey of committee rules on subpoenas.

Senator Leahy will retire at the end of this Congress. He is a tremendous champion of transparency and open government and has pushed these issues from his positions as chair of the Appropriations committee, the Judiciary committee, and elsewhere. He waged a decades-long fight to have CRS reports made publicly available (first co-sponsoring legislation on that point with Sen. McCain in 1998) and has shepherded countless FOIA reforms into law.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast: Unions, CBO, & Leahy 11/15/2021”

First Branch Forecast: Top lines, bottom lines, effective oversight, and legislative nirvana (Nov. 8, 2021)

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Welcome‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌First‌ ‌Branch‌ ‌Forecast,‌ ‌your‌ ‌regular‌ ‌look‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌branch‌ ‌and‌ ‌government ‌transparency.‌ ‌Tell ‌your‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ subscribe.

THE TOP LINE

OOO. The Senate is in recess until the week of November 15th; no floor votes are scheduled in the House until the week of the 15th, although there are a few committee hearings. Before you schedule your long lunches, RSVP for today’s Advisory Committee on Transparency’s lightning talks on Big Ideas for Improving Transparency and tomorrow’s House Admin’s hearing on the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. With Congress’s approval of BIF last week, expect BBB, appropriations, and the NDAA on Congress’s plate when it comes back.

APPROPS UPDATE

Top lines. A bicameral, bipartisan topline agreement is urgently needed so that appropriators can negotiate on the particulars, Sen. Leahy said in a statement Thursday. Republicans have yet to make a counteroffer to Democratic proposals. Sen. Leahy accurately described the potential of an “endless cycle of continuing resolutions” as an irresponsible way to govern, pointing out year-long CRs as counterproductive to Republicans’ stated goals of increasing defense spending, countering China, and so on. We have yet another process stand-off: Dems want to negotiate top line numbers and then would be willing to discuss policy riders; Republicans want policy rider agreement prior to discussing top line numbers.

Increasing Legislative branch funding is the focus of a conservative coalition letter focused on congressional offices, GAO, and CBO. The letter, organized by the Lincoln Network, urged appropriators to “allocate an increased share of resources from the discretionary spending pool for Article I responsibilities.”

LEG BRANCH

Oversight of the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights — specifically, lessons learned from the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, which applied some employment laws to the Legislative branch and was amended a few years back — is the topic of a Committee on House Administration oversight hearing set for tomorrow, Nov. 9th, at 3 PM. The hearing comes amid the nomination of OCWR Director Susan Grundmann to serve on the Federal Labor Relations Board; per Congress.gov, a hearing concerning her nomination was held on Oct. 20th. FWIW, we’d be interested to know OCWR’s views on moving forward with unionization for Legislative branch political staff; the original CAA had OCWR promulgate regulations for support agencies and congressional offices, but only the former has been put into force. Are OCWR’s union regs for political offices still in effect and just waiting to be turned on? Unions are the traditional tool for workers to protect their rights and to collectively advocate for better working conditions.

Strengthening Congressional oversight powers was the topic of the latest House Modernization Committee hearing last Thursday. We have an extensive recap here and Demand Progress released a report with four recommendations here. In our recap, we cover the problems Congress has in conducting oversight, the cliches that have arisen about what’s holding it back, and summarize important reform ideas.

Process determines policy. The House Rules Committee’s purview is House procedure, including the rules of the House and the terms for floor debate on specific legislation. As RollCall noted last week, those duties grant the committee — and the Speaker of the House, who controls majority appointments to the committee — extraordinary power. (The rules didn’t always work this way.) We’ve written extensively about Demand Progress’s recommendations to modernize the Rules of the House, some of which have been put into effect and all of which received a thoughtful hearing, and our recommendations to modernize the Rules of the Democratic Caucus, which largely have not been put into effect (although they are now, finally, publicly available, although the rules of the Steering Committee are not.) With the expected transition in leadership at the end of this Congress, there is no doubt that the rules governing party operations and House operations will be pivotal to determining who has power and how it is exercised. We have a video primer on how the House adopts its rules.

Good news for the AOC. A recent IG report found significant improvements in how the AOC is handling phase 2 of the Cannon Building re-construction project compared to phase 1.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast: Top lines, bottom lines, effective oversight, and legislative nirvana (Nov. 8, 2021)”

First Branch Forecast: Better Later Than Never– What’s In the Approps Bills? (Nov. 2, 2021)

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Welcome‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌First‌ ‌Branch‌ ‌Forecast,‌ ‌your‌ ‌regular‌ ‌look‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌branch‌ ‌and‌ ‌government ‌ ‌transparency.‌ ‌Tell ‌your‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ subscribe.

THE TOP LINE

Notable events this week: Strengthening Congressional Oversight Capacity is the focus of a ModCom hearing on Thursday; ACMRA and several IG bills get a HSGAC mark-up on Wednesday; and save the date for next Monday’s lightning talks on eight new transparency ideas.

We still need your help. Hundreds of FBF readers were automatically unsubscribed from our newsletter a few weeks ago because of a technical snafu — and we can’t resubscribe them. Please forward this email to folks on the hill + journalists who might be interested in our little publication and encourage them to re-subscribe here; and please add my email address (daniel@demandprogress.org) to your contact list so I don’t get relegated to spam. Thanks!

APPROPRIATIONS

Senate Democrats’ draft CJS bill and explanatory statement includes a new push for transparency around the Foreign Agents Registration Act — nice! — but does not include a parallel provision to the House’s language directing transparency for OLC opinions, which is something Demand Progress had requested. It’s inclusion is not necessary as committee report language controls so long as it’s not contradicted elsewhere. Our rundown on transparency-related CJS matters is here.

Senate Dems’ draft FSGG approps bill had at least two notable items — transparency around apportionments and increasing the federal government’s intern capacity — and we’ve looked at the transparency provisions in that bill here.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast: Better Later Than Never– What’s In the Approps Bills? (Nov. 2, 2021)”

Forecast for October 25, 2021

Welcome‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌First‌ ‌Branch‌ ‌Forecast,‌ ‌your‌ ‌regular‌ ‌look‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌branch‌ ‌and‌ ‌government‌ ‌transparency.‌ ‌Tell ‌your‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ subscribe.

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Congressional employees were particularly affected by this. If you have a friend on the hill who might like this newsletter, please encourage them to (re)-subscribe.

FYI, our archives are on our website.

THE TOP LINE

Congress is in. The House is back today and has both the Infrastructure and Build Back Better bills tentatively set for floor consideration; the Senate also is back today. The committee schedule is here, and we’ve put notable (to us) hearings and events in the calendar section, below.

Senate Appropriations. Senate Democrats published nine draft appropriations bills after months of requesting Republicans negotiate over the contents; Senate Republicans immediately condemned their publication as “unilateral” and resulting from a “one-sided process.” With government funding expiring on December 3rd, we appreciate Senate Democrats making transparent their positions, which appear to incorporate a number of Republican priorities. It seems likely that Republican disagreement will result in a skipped markup process and behind-the-scenes negotiations among the parties. Read on for our first reactions to approps, with more to come.

Reimagining the congressional support agencies was the subject of two separate hearings last week: a House ModCom hearing on modernizing three policy support agencies (CBO, GAO, and CRS), and an oversight hearing before the Senate Rules Committee on modernizing the Library of Congress (of which CRS is part). As you might imagine, we’ve got a lot to say — and said it in this new blogpost.

— Support agency modernization. How Congress makes sense of the world was the focus of the House Modernization Committee hearing that honed in on the operations of the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, and the Congressional Budget Office. It was one of the most insightful hearings of the 117th Congress. Four issues, in my opinion, encapsulate the challenges facing these agencies. They are (1) funding, (2) Legislative branch agency access to Executive branch-held information; (3) congressional and public access to Legislative branch agency information; (4) workforce management. When I enumerate this list it seems kinda dry, but the hearing was juicy and we’ve identified a number of next steps that reimagine how Congress receives support from its legislative branch policy support agencies.

— The Library of Congress was the focus of a Senate Rules Committee modernization hearing, which seemed largely focused on the copyright office, although directors of CRS and National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled also testified. Oversight hearings concerning the Legislative branch are generally rare, staid, complimentary, and superficial — unless there is a scandal. (House Admin’s 2019 hearing into CRS is a notable counterexample — it addressed significant dysfunction at CRS.) We were impressed, however, by Sen. Ossoff’s question to CRS’s Director, Dr. Mary Mazanac, about what she thought the agency should do if it had unlimited resources. The answer, alas, did not express any long term vision or insight into the changing needs of Congress.

Planners of pro-Trump rallies who organized and planned the Jan. 6th “protest” participated in dozens of planning meetings with Members of Congress and White House staff, including Reps. Greene, Gosar, Boebert, Brooks, Cawthorn, Biggs, and Gohmert, Rolling Stone reported. Rep. Gosar reportedly told the organizers that Pres. Trump would issue blanket pardons for an unrelated investigation if they went forward with the “protests.”

Continue reading “Forecast for October 25, 2021”

Forecast for October 18, 2021

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Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your regular look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Tell your friends to subscribe. In the words of Ted Lasso, “I appreciate you.”

THE TOP LINE

Send me in, coach. The House returns on Tuesday with a fairly light floor schedule that suggests bigger legislation is afoot. The Senate reconvenes on Monday. In addition to our list of notable events and hearings, it appears that the Attorney General will be testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

We’re watching the Senate to see if/when it will report out its FY2022 Appropriations bills. If, like us, you’re especially eager to see Leg Branch Approps, consider this an aperitif: CRS has a new report covering the FY 2022 Leg Branch Approps bill. As a reminder, our research shows that funding for the Legislative branch has grown at half the rate of the other non-defense discretionary spending and that the vast majority of new funds over the last quarter-century have gone to the Architect and the Capitol Police. This fiscal year the House has ponied up but will the Senate see the raise?

Congress is failing to retain capable staff and that problem is particularly acute among Black staffers, the New York Times reported. Among the recommendations outlined in a joint letter from the Congressional Black Associates and the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus: (1) living wages for all congressional staffers, (2) a stronger pipeline from college to the Legislative branch, (3) more opportunities to develop skills inside Congress, (4) purposeful and fair hiring practices. We note the Joint Center and Pay Our Interns have much to share on these points. In addition to the aspects cited in the Times article, we must emphasize the importance of having Legislative branch wide data, of the Senate establishing an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, of establishing pay floors for interns and staff and improving staff recruitment, and of considering unionization. Crucially, improving funding for the Legislative branch — and especially staff pay — is the price of democracy and the focus of calls from good government groups on the left and on the right.

There’s a bunch of transparency and oversight events this week and next:

• COVID-19 response transparency. The Congressional Transparency Caucus will discuss the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee — the oversight committee created to monitor the disbursement of the CARES act and five other pandemic-related packages totalling over $5 trillion — on Wednesday, October 20th at 10 AM ET. Panelists include PRAC Chair and DOJ IG Michael Horowitz, Liz Hempowiz of POGO, Chicago IG Joseph Ferguson, and Deputy IG at the Department of the Interior Caryl N. Brzymialkiewicz. Register here.

• Modernizing the Library of Congress. An oversight hearing on LOC’s modernization efforts will be held by the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday, October 20th at 3 PM.

• Modernizing Congressional Support Agencies (CBO/GAO/CRS) is the subject of another House Modernization Committee hearing scheduled for Wednesday, October 21st from 9-11 AM. We previewed Zach Graves’ testimony on GAO, and Wendy Ginsberg’s on CRS, in last week’s newsletter.

• Safeguarding Inspector General Independence and Integrity — especially topical for today’s newsletter — will be considered at an HSGAC hearing this Thursday, October 21st at 10:15 AM.

• Transparency lightning talks. New transparency policy ideas will be discussed in a quick, digestible format on Monday, November 8th at 11 AM ET at the Advisory Committee on Transparency’s fourth event of 2021. Presenters include transparency experts from across the political spectrum: Walter Shaub of POGO, Erica Newland of Protect Democracy, Corinna Turbes of the Data Coalition, Reynold Schweickhardt of the Lincoln Network, and more. RSVP here.

Continue reading “Forecast for October 18, 2021”

Forecast for October 12, 2021

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Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your regular look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Subscribe here.

THE TOP LINE

The House will be back briefly on Tuesday to vote to raise the debt ceiling. With the quick turn-around during a committee work week, how many members will vote by proxy? Honestly, voting remotely seems appropriate here, although members should have their full powers to intervene on the House floor (i.e., make motions) regardless of whether they’re physically present, which current House rules do not yet provide for. The Senate will be back on October 18th.

The Congressional Transparency Caucus will discuss the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee — the oversight committee created to monitor the disbursement of the CARES act and five other pandemic-related packages totalling over $5 trillion — on Wednesday, October 20th at 10 AM. Panelists include PRAC Chair and DOJ IG Michael Horowitz, Liz Hempowiz of POGO, Chicago IG Joseph Ferguson, and more. Register here.

Transparency lightning talks. If you’re interested in a series of quick pitches for making government more open and accountable, the Advisory Committee on Transparency will be hosting a series of short presentations that you can watch from the comfort of your desk. The all-star list of presenters includes Walter Shaub of POGO, Corinna Turbes of the Data Coalition, Erica Newland of Protect Democracy, Freddy Martinez of Open The Government, and more. The event is set for 11:00 am ET on November 8th. RSVP here.

Continue reading “Forecast for October 12, 2021”

Forecast for October 4, 2021

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Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your regular look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Subscribe here.

Congress passed the stopgap funding bill on September 30, temporarily averting a government shutdown. While in theory there will be no House floor votes until the 19th and the next two weeks are committee work weeks, with the debt ceiling default almost upon us, the House will be back sooner than that. Also in theory, the Senate is in this week but will be out October 11-15. How will negotiations go on all this? For the Democrats, a lot depends on how it is framed in the media, and it seems pundits are giving Republicans a pass.

The end of the fiscal year also means that agency actions pursuant to FY 2021 appropriations report language (unless otherwise specified) are past due. Would it surprise you that we have a list of all items required and requested in the FY 2021 Legislative branch appropriations bill? (Among other things, there’s a lot of activity we have yet to see from the U.S. Capitol Police.)

Continue reading “Forecast for October 4, 2021”

Forecast for September 27, 2021

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Hey everyone, welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your regular look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Subscribe here. We had written a lot more but pared it down because that seemed the humane thing to do. Here’s the top things you need to know.

Spending and budget. You already know that we’re in for a bumpy time with the end of the fiscal year, consideration of the physical and social infrastructure bills, and so on. Everything is being made worse by Senate Republicans who not only oppose raising the debt ceiling — a violation of Congressional norms — but will use the filibuster to greatly increase the likelihood of an economic catastrophe. They might profit from the gambit, too, as much of the reporting is focused on politics instead of governance. What’s the timeline on all this? IDK, but here’s your Sunday-night Dear Colleague from the Speaker.

Oversight. A wild story arising from the CIA’s secret “war” on Julian Assange, including the possibility of his assassination and gunfights on the streets of London with Russian agents, raises significant congressional oversight and authorization concerns. Did Congress know about the CIA’s efforts to avoid reporting its activities to Congress by reclassifying Wikileaks as a spy service based on its internal secret law? Or its reclassification of journalists (like Laura Poitras) as “information brokers” in support of allowing greater degrees of surveillance? Or a whole host of unsavory, likely extralegal, and fairly insane potential misadventures? As always on these matters, look to Sen. Wyden, who raised the alarm as best he could in a statement accompanying consideration of the 2018 Intelligence Authorization Act. “My concern is that the use of the novel phrase ‘non-state hostile intelligence service’ may have legal, constitutional, and policy implications, particularly should it be applied to journalists inquiring about secrets. The language in the bill suggesting that the U.S. government has some unstated course of action against ‘non-state hostile intelligence services’ is equally troubling.” I guess this will make Thursday’s mark-up of the FY 2022 IAA more exciting — too bad the proceedings are closed.

Transparency. The infrastructure bill has a huge FOIA carve-out that exempts the $42 billion in broadband deployment from normal transparency requirements — will someone strip that odious provision from the bill? Our friends at OpenTheGovernment are being subpoenaed by ClearviewAI, which apparently is happy gathering your personal information off the internet but is less happy when investigated for their facial recognition tech and how it’s being used. Russ Kick, a well-known transparency activist and author who created the Memory Hole website and published many newsworthy documents, has died.

Legislation. The Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act was signed into law this past week — it requires that all plain-language explanations of how agencies would spend the appropriated monies they’ve requested be available in a central location. (Yay!) Among the many amendments to the NDAA was the PLUM Act, which would modernize the PLUM Book by creating a continuously-updated repository of more than 9,000 executive branch appointees. (Also, yay!) The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act was introduced by Sens. Portman, Peters, Klobuchar, and Hassan — it would require all reports required to be submitted to Congress from agencies be available on a central website, subject to appropriate redactions — a companion measure introduced by Reps. Quigley and Comer and a score of other members passed the House in July. The humongous Protecting Our Democracy Act (text not yet available) was (re)introduced in the House and contains numerous welcome provisions to rein in out-of-control presidents. (Among its provisions, visibility into apportionments.)

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress held a hearing last week on civilityRoll Call has a good recap, but we think the best way to promote civility is to learn from the SCOMC itself and also look at the incentives that leadership is creating for party members. We are excited for a SCOMC hearing this Tuesday focused on modernizing Congressional support agencies, with testimony from GAO, CRS, and CBO and civil society experts on each.

Operations. House Democrats have weakened chamber rules to restrict the minority’s ability to use resolutions of inquiry to get answers from the executive branch. Rising constituent needs are swamping poorly funded congressional offices. The CBC is pushing Sen. Schumer to remove confederate statues and we wonder why Congress doesn’t charge the Joint Committee on the Library with moving them out of sight in the interim? How will the new “ban the box” law, which prevents consideration of a criminal history in the early stages of hiring, change how the legislative branch operates? A new IG report into the GAO sheds a little light on its detailees. A new Brookings report shows 128 committee oversight letters sent within the first six months of the 117th Congress, 29% of which were bipartisan, the vast majority of which came from the House Oversight Committee! By the way, what’s the odds that spyware only exists on the phones of French ministers and not, say, members of Congress?

Capitol Police. The Capitol Police Board still hasn’t acted on recs from 2017, says House Admin RM Davis. The USCP can not keep secret some surveillance footage from the Trump insurrection despite their efforts to the contrary. Threats against members have increased significantly, to 4,135 in the first quarter per the Capitol Police versus 8,613 for 2020, but they aren’t saying how many threats were substantiated, resulted in prosecutions, or resulted in convictions — or whether they’ve changed how they’re gathering this info.

Trump insurrection.The White House might decline to assert executive privilege concerning Trump and his aides activities as part of the Trump insurrection. The Select Committee on Jan. 6th issued subpoenas to four Trump aides. Conservative legal notable John Eastman put forward an incredibly dangerous plan to throw out electors and install Trump as president — it took Dan Quayle to dissuade Pence of this approach. The FBI had an informant among the insurrectionists.

Ethics. TikTokers are using member stock disclosures as a basis to make their own trades, counting on the reps using insider knowledge to make quick profits.

Continue reading “Forecast for September 27, 2021”