Webinar: Senate Rules and the Supreme Court Nomination

Senate rules and procedure are in the news with the ongoing confirmation proceedings for Judge Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is why we hosted a webinar with three Senate rules and procedure experts on October 8, 2020, focused on the nomination and Judiciary and floor procedure. The panelists were:

  • Sarah Binder, senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and professor of political science at GW
  • Matt Glassman, senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown
  • Molly Reynolds, senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution
  • Daniel Schumanmoderator, policy director at Demand Progress

Didn’t catch the event live? Watch it online below or click here.

A Brief Recent History of Unionization in Congress

Working conditions for Congressional staff have recently been prominent in the news. News stories recount staff shamed by their offices for wanting to wear masks in the face of COVID-19 or being unnecessarily forced into their offices. Congressional staff are also significantly underpaid compared to their Executive branch (or historical) counterparts; their health insurance has been used as a political football; and they have less recourse when they’re subject to harassment or other mistreatment in the workplace.

The traditional response by staff to difficult working conditions is to unionize. But can Congressional staff unionize like their Executive branch counterparts? Continue reading “A Brief Recent History of Unionization in Congress”

The Digital File Cabinet: House and Senate File Ethics Disclosures

Members of Congress in the House and Senate, candidates for federal office, senior congressional staff, nominees for executive branch positions, Cabinet members, the president and vice president and Supreme Court justices are required by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to file annual reports disclosing their personal finances. Compliance and enforcement of this requirement is overseen by the congressional ethics committees, the ethics offices of government agencies and, in the case of executive branch officials, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

These disclosures include financial forms, gift and travel filings, post-employment lobbying restrictions, and more. It’s a lot of disclosure information, and oftentimes, some disclosures must be filed in person rather than online. 

The following outlines the major types of information that must be reported on personal ethics disclosures, as well as if the information is publicly available online, in person, or both.

Continue reading “The Digital File Cabinet: House and Senate File Ethics Disclosures”

The Recap: Library of Congress Virtual Public Forum

On September 10, 2020, the Library of Congress held a Virtual Public Forum on the Library’s role in providing access to legislative information. The forum was held at the direction of the House Committee on Appropriations pursuant to its report accompanying the FY 2020 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill. Per the legislative language, there will be another forum scheduled prior to October 2021. There was widespread interest in the topic: according to the Library, several hundred people registered for the event. 

Prior to the forum, the Congressional Data Coalition and others sent a report containing more than two dozen recommendations concerning the Library of Congress’ legislative information services. They fell into five conceptual groupings: (1) Publish Information As Data; (2) Put the Legislative Process in Context; (3) Integrate Information from Multiple Sources; (4) Publish Archival Information; (5) Collaborate with the Public. 

The following provides a recap of the three-hour proceedings. The Library indicated it will post video snippets of the conversation.

Continue reading “The Recap: Library of Congress Virtual Public Forum”

Pending Good Government Bills: 116th Congress

The 116th Congress is coming to a close, with Members getting ready to depart to campaign full-time and then return in late-November/December for a lame duck session. Time is running out before bills turn into pumpkins and have to be re-introduced at the start of the next Congress. According to GovTrack, 151 bills have become law so far. By comparison, 12,874 bills have been introduced, or 1.1%, although some of these bills are duplicates of ones that have become law. 

We and our friends in civil society have compiled a non-exhaustive list of pending good government bills that lawmakers should consider pushing across the finish line before time runs out. As legislation that’s further along in the process is more likely to become law, we’ve sorted our list by their status. We’ve further subdivided the list regarding the part of government they would affect.

Continue reading “Pending Good Government Bills: 116th Congress”

Select Recommendations for Updating the House Rules 117th Congress

Introduction

Demand Progress released 129 recommended updates to the Rules of the House of Representatives and separate orders the House should adopt for the 117th Congress as part of an August 20, 2020 report. The report is the culmination of months of work, reflects significant engagement with experts on Congress, and addresses ten major thematic areas. 

We recognize the volume of recommendations in the full report can be overwhelming, so the following document highlights 13 reforms that the House should consider. We chose these particular reform recommendations based on how feasible they are to implement, the extent to which they would strengthen the House of Representatives, their political viability, and their overall significance to Congressional operations.

Continue reading “Select Recommendations for Updating the House Rules 117th Congress”

Foresight: A Tool for a Proactive Government

Someone on the Hill once told me that Congress was “constitutionally reactive.” That is, Congress and the law would always lag behind society, and the system was intentionally designed that way. The current rapid pace of change — in our culture and particularly with technology — only makes the gap between policy and our lives more glaring. 

Continue reading “Foresight: A Tool for a Proactive Government”

Foresight in the Federal Government

In “Strategic Foresight in the Federal Government: A Survey of Methods, Resources and Institutional Arrangements,”[1] authors Joseph Greenblott, Thomas O’Farrell, Robert Olson, and Beth Burchard analyzed foresight activities in 19 federal agencies (18 in the Executive Branch and 1 in the Legislative Branch). This article summarizes the findings (all numbers and quotes are from that article).

While approaches varied by agency, some common themes emerged.[2] Overall, Defense and Intelligence agencies seemed to have the strongest (and best funded) foresight practices.[3] Foresight in the Executive Branch is much further developed than in the Legislative Branch. 

Continue reading “Foresight in the Federal Government”

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

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

In July, 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 “September Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution”

House Rules: How Committees Operate

Each House committee has rules that dictate how the committee will function. These rules govern how many members must be present to take an action (i.e., quorum requirements), subpoenas, and other actions. The committees are (theoretically) the workhorses of Congress — legislation, reports, budgets, appropriations, and oversight all originate in committees. 

Committee rules exist under the umbrella of the rules that govern the entire House of Representatives. House and committee rules change every two years as the “new” House takes office after elections. The Congressional Research Service notes: “One of the majority party’s prerogatives is writing House rules and using its numbers to effect the chamber’s rules on the day a new House convenes.” 

That CRS report provides an overview of House rule changes from 2007 to 2017. CRS also provides a survey of House and Senate subpoena requirements through 2018. Finally, a CRS report describes rule changes affecting committee procedures in the current 116th Congress. 

Current committee rules are compiled in this 400 page document. Here are some highlights:

Continue reading “House Rules: How Committees Operate”