A Look at the US Capitol Police

The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) has the mission of ensuring public access to our elected officials while protecting members of Congress and the Capitol campus. The USCP is well resourced, with a $450 million budget — a little larger than the budget for the police department serving Austin, Texas, which has a population of 950,000 people — and amounts to 10% of overall legislative branch spending. The department has over 2,200 employees, which is slightly more personnel than the Atlanta, Georgia, police department. USCP is one of the very few legislative branch agencies to have grown larger over the decades, with an approximate 3% budget increase annually.

What does the well-resourced Capitol Police department do with this significant capacity?

At the tail end of 2018 — prompted by multiple requests — the Capitol Police began publishing weekly arrest summaries online in PDF format. (We retyped that data into this arrest spreadsheet.) We also requested arrest summaries that were made available to some journalists prior to 2019 as well as basic arrest demographic information in a data format, but those requests were not fulfilled.

We analyzed the information that is available — 86 incidents involving 160 individuals between December 19, 2018, and February 28, 2019.

We found the following trends:

  • Approximately half of the arrests, 82 in total, concerned blocking a passageway, which suggests they related to the arrest of protesters.
  • Approximately one-third of the arrests, 53 in total, concerned traffic violations.
  • Only half of the arrests, 85 in total, were reported inside the House or Senate office buildings, of which the vast majority apparently were in connection with a protest. It is our understanding that arrests related to protests are often negotiated in advance with the USCP.
  • The USCP arrests statistics may not tell the whole story, as we have reason to suspect that much information relating to USCP incidents (and possibly arrests) may not have been included.

A number of reported arrests took place blocks away from the capitol campus. We’ve published a map of all the arrests, the red pins mark House and Senate office buildings.

Continue reading “A Look at the US Capitol Police”

Feds Lag in Publishing Funding Requests

Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are plain-language explanations of how an agency proposes to spend money it requests that Congress appropriate, but how easy is it for congressional staff and citizens to find these documents? Demand Progress surveyed 456 federal agencies and entities for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and found:

  • 7.5 percent of the 173 agencies with congressional liaisons, i.e., 13 agencies, published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. (Agencies with congressional liaison offices routinely interact with Congress). If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure becomes 3.3 percent, or 5 agencies, out of 152 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. The failure of one agency to publish their report impacts a number of sub-agencies. Among the agencies/entities inconsistent in their reporting is the Executive Office of the President, which houses the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the Office of the Vice President.
  • 6.1 percent of the 456 agencies we surveyed published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure changes to 3.1 percent, or 10 agencies, out of 318 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. Among the agencies/entities that inconsistently published their CBJs online are (yet again) the Executive Office of the President and the Access Board.
  • 21 percent of the 456 agencies we surveyed did not publish a CBJ. This is on top of the 6.1 percent that published only one CBJ for 2018 and 2019. We do not know whether these agencies were required to publish a CBJ, or whether their justification might be aggregated under another agency that did not publish its report. Unfortunately, there is no publicly-available comprehensive list of agencies that must publish these justifications.
  • All 24 CFO Act agencies — i.e., those agencies with a Chief Financial Officer created under the CFO Act — published their CBJs online.

Of the 456 agencies we reviewed, 141 of the agency CBJs traditionally would be included in CBJ’s generated by 73 other agencies. Continue reading “Feds Lag in Publishing Funding Requests”

How House Committees Get Their Money

Committee funding in the House of Representatives is accomplished through a somewhat quirky process. Appropriators in the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee set a top dollar amount for the committees — they appropriate the funds — but it is the Committee on House Administration that provides (i.e. allots) the funds to each committee on a biennial basis.

At the beginning of each new Congress, each committee chair and ranking member jointly testifies before the House Administration Committee and requests funds for their committee. For the 115th Congress, the hearings took place on February 15th and 16th, 2017. Here is the committee notice; the written statements requesting funds; and video from Feb. 15 and Feb. 16.

On March 7th, the House Administration Committee introduced a funding resolution in the House, and on March 8, the committee held a markup on House Resolution 173 that allotted funds to the committees. You can watch the very brief proceedings here. House Administration reported out the committee report a week later on March 15th, and the House passed the resolution on March 17.

HOW FUNDING FOR COMMITTEES HAS CHANGED OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS

What does this look like in practice? Drawing upon the excellent data in this CRS report, plus a little additional research on spending on the appropriations committee, we looked at:

  1. Total committee spending from 1995 to present
  2. The change in spending per committee from 1997 to present
  3. Spending per committee in the last Congress

What did we find? Overall, committees have significantly fewer funds available than their recent historical counterparts, which undermines their ability to do their jobs.

(Want to check our math? You can see our data here: un-adjusted committee spending data from 1994-2018 and inflation-adjusted committee spending data from 1994-2018.)

TOTAL COMMITTEE SPENDING

Total spending on committees is down by more than $100 million from its peak, using inflation adjusted dollars. The House of Representatives put $319,584,882 towards its committees in the 115th Congress, down from $429,551,693 in the 111th Congress, which incidentally was when Democrats last controlled the House. This is a 25% cut in funding. As a point of comparison, Capitol Police salaries for FY 2018 alone amounted to $351,700,000 in FY 2018, with an additional $74,800,000 in general expenses.

What’s interesting is that committee spending is down from when Republicans last controlled both the House and the White House, in the 109th Congress. At that time, committees received $399,361,247 in inflation adjusted dollars, which is $80m more than the most recent Congress.

committee spending Continue reading “How House Committees Get Their Money”

The House Office of Inspector General Should Publish Information About Its Reports

The House of Representatives has an Inspector General that is authorized to provide independent, nonpartisan investigations into the House’s operations, but over the years that office’s findings have become largely shrouded from public view. In what ways has it become less transparent? How many reports does the office issue and what do they cover?

We looked at all the public records we could find since the IG’s office was created in 1992.

Our findings:

  • Initially, many of the House Inspector General’s reports were made publicly available on its website, but now there is very little public information concerning the office’s work.
  • While most federal Inspectors General have increased transparency concerning their findings, transparency concerning the House IG has decreased.
  • Information about the work of the House Inspector General has been inconsistently made available to the public; we created our own inventory of House IG reports pieced together from publicly available information.

Continue reading “The House Office of Inspector General Should Publish Information About Its Reports”

Congressional Child Care Options Are Grossly Inadequate

It is hard enough to be a congressional staffer, but if you have young children the problem is magnified. Washington, D.C. is the most expensive place in the United States to raise a family, congressional staff work on average 53 hours-per-week when Congress is in session, and child care options in the nation’s capital can be particularly challenging. Given that Congress already faces significant staff retention problems and three-quarters of its staff find their jobs insufficiently flexible in addressing the work-life balance, is Congress doing enough to support staff in taking care of their youngest family members?

Here’s what we found:

  • The child care spots available to staff who work in the House, Senate, and Library of Congress are woefully inadequate to meet demand
  • The wait lists for infant-care are so long that by the time a position opens up, the average child ages out of infant care.

Continue reading “Congressional Child Care Options Are Grossly Inadequate”

Time to Reform the House Rules

Improving the House’s rules is the focus of a new letter and white paper released today. It’s no secret that Congress is struggling; these reforms are aimed at making it easier for Members to legislate, conduct oversight, and address constituent concerns.

The letter sets out 10 principles for reforming the House rules, endorsed by 20 organizations and 8 experts on Congress. The white paper contains scores of specific reforms: from addressing staff retention to improving the committee process, from giving Congress access to first class technology to rethinking the ethics process. It reflects more than a year of soliciting and synthesizing ideas from members of congress, staff, and experts on Congress.

On Thursday the Rules Committee will hear Members testify on what rules reforms they would like to see adopted, and in a few short months the House will vote. Process determines policy, and this is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to level the playing field.

The white paper is here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/demandprogress/reports/House_Rules_Reform_Recommendation_2018-09-12.pdf

The letter is here (and reproduced below): https://s3.amazonaws.com/demandprogress/letters/Rules_Reform_Letter_2018-09-12.pdf

Continue reading “Time to Reform the House Rules”

Keeping Congress Competent: Staff Pay, Turnover, And What It Means for Democracy

Incoming Speaker Boehner recently vowed to tighten the House of Representative’s collective belt through a 5 percent budget reduction. Congressional staff are the most likely target. An in-depth look at Congressional staff employment trends raises questions about whether Congress has the support necessary to do its job. After reviewing a quarter century of staff salary and retention data, we found:

  • A pay gap between Washington-based House personal office staff earnings and people doing equivalent work in the DC metropolitan area.
  • A decrease in the total number of hill staff over the last two decades.
  • Fewer staff engaged in policy-making roles.
  • Average salaries for most Washington-based House personal staff have not increased in two decades, and may have decreased for many.

Who is picking up the slack? One clue could lie in the nearly 12,500 federally registered lobbyists, and countless others, who provide information and exert influence in the halls of Congress; by contrast there’s around 7–8,000 House personal office, leadership, and committee staff. Put a different way, $2.6 billion was spent on lobbying in Washington in 2010, versus $1.37 billion for the House of Representatives in FY 2010. Have we privatized Congress?

Pay Gap

Our analysis found a pay gap between Washington-based House personal office staff and their DC-area counterparts. That gap may encourage staff to seek greener pastures while depriving Congress of experience and expertise. The gap is widest at the top. For example, a chief of staff on average would earn 40% more in the private sector than on Capitol Hill. See the chart below.

This comparison may still underestimate the market value of Capitol Hill staff. They are in a unique position compared with other people performing similar roles. With a competitive and thriving market for former hill talent, market forces and difficult working conditions have likely pushed many talented people into the arms of the private sector. Indeed, the average age of a DC-based House personal office staffer is 31. Ex-staffers who become lobbyists can increase their earnings by many multiples, a value derived from their Congressional employment. There are countless illustrations of the revolving door at work.

1_Wh6azgVTkjWlSO84JhfJuQ

Unfortunately, our comparison between Congressional and private sector pay is incomplete. We are unable to evaluate House committee staff salaries. We didn’t look at the Senate in detail. The personal office salaries are aggregate averages drawn from a 2009 survey [PDF] performed by ICT International for the Chief Administrative Officer of the House; we only have access to the report, not the underlying data. The job titles in the House are only roughly comparable to the occupational employment and wage estimates for the District of Columbia drawn from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics [FTP]. (There’s no clear fitting private sector analog to Legislative Assistant in the Bureau of Labor Statistics database.) We have no good way of comparing employment benefits. And the profile for hill staff both in age and education likely varies significantly from the DC metropolitan area.

Even so, the pay gap is clear.

Fewer Overall Staff

We also found that there are fewer House staff and fewer legislative support agency personnel now than at any time in the recent past, with data going back to 1979. (The data is drawn from the publication Vital Statistics for Congress 2008, which covers 1979 to 2005, and was supplemented by several CRS reports.)

Altogether, House personal office, committee, and leadership staff numbers are at 87% of their 1979 levels. Much of the reduction took place in 1994–1995, when the Republican party regained control of the House. Over the last three decades, committee staff took the biggest hit, dropping from 2,027 staff in 1979 to 1,272 in 2005. See the chart below.

Major legislative support agencies show an even more dramatic downward trend, staffed at 65% of their 1979 levels. The Government Accountability Office suffered the greatest decline to 60% of its 1979 level, a reduction of 2,112 staff. CRS is at 80% of its 1979 staffing levels.

Some of the work being performed by government employees likely has been taken over by lobbyists and think tanks, at least in part. Unfortunately, reliable data is not available for the number of lobbyists prior to 1996, and we haven’t uncovered data on think tank staff. Even with this privatization of public work, assuming that’s what’s happening, it’s likely that much congressional activity — conducting oversight, evaluating proposals brought to the hill — cannot be outsourced.

1_e3q0RVJ_5MJ604GHj7Dqbw

To be sure, some could argue that changes in technology have made some staff redundant. Perhaps that is true, but the nature of legislative support work and the history of staff reductions strongly suggest other causes.

Fewer Hill Staff in Policymaking Roles

Our analysis strongly suggests that fewer staff perform policy-related work now than in years past. As a general rule, legislative and policymaking work is performed in Washington, while constituent services are provided in the district offices. Recent years have seen a shift towards employing more staff in the district at the expense of the DC office.

For example, in 1976, nearly three-quarters of House personal office staff were based in Washington; that decreased to one-half in 2005. In other words, the total number of staffers in Washington has decreased by 1,500 to 3,354 from 1976 to 2005. (Again, this information is drawn from the publication Vital Statistics on Congress 2008.)

This 30-year tectonic shift likely diminished the House’s policymaking capabilities.

1_Em0EvkoUBKMQWPuZEkdMYA

Personal Office Staff Pay Unchanged Over Two Decades

We also found that most House personal office staff salary averages are unchanged over the last 20 years, adjusted for inflation, and may have even diminished over time. Consequently, staff may find that longevity brings them diminishing benefits and may prompt them to bring their skills elsewhere.

With the exception of the Chief of Staff, Legislative Director, and Scheduler, the average personal office staffer’s salary has not changed since 1990. On average, a staffer in 2009 likely earns within a few thousand dollars of their 1990s equivalent. By contrast, a Chief of Staff’s earnings have increased by $30,000 on average; a Legislative Director’s earnings increased by $17,000; and a Scheduler earns $9,000 more.

It is possible that we underestimated the value of 1990s Hill staff earning power because we relied on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator to transform all money into 2010 dollars. The Inflation Calculator uses national data, but Washington DC of the 1980s and 1990s is a very different place than it is today. It is now the wealthiest and most educated region in the nation, according to the Washington Post’s analysis of 2010 census data. DC in the top 25 for most the most expensive homeownership markets and top 10 for most expensive home rental markets. Additional analysis may find that many Hill staff salaries have actually decreased in real terms.

1_rMXUSle2RGFA3Gb4fwIKGQ

Our findings are drawn from the best available information, but we cannot fully assess their accuracy. Our data is drawn from Congressional Management Foundation and ICT International surveys. We did not have access to the underlying data, but only averages and aggregate totals. The methodology and reliability of each report may vary; as may the classification of who has a particular job title. Unfortunately, the surveys do not include information on committee staff pay, or on employment benefits. Legistorm, although complete, only goes back to 2001.

Our efforts to collect House and Senate employment surveys was complicatedby the House’s refusal to provide these reports upon request, their unavailability generally (including at the Library of Congress), and an incredibly small print run and restricted distribution. The Congressional Management Foundation, which ran the survey until 2004, was as helpful as they could be without breaching contractual relationships. Ultimately, we relied on fantastic librarians like James Jacobs of Stanford University, several friends on the Hill, and former intern Jessica Pearce to obtain copies of existing reports.

The Big Picture

The foremost concern is whether Congress has the capability to effectively and impartially carry out its responsibilities. Does the decreasing number of policy staff combined with financially attractive outside employment negatively affect Congress’ legislative and oversight capabilities? Would addressing these issues have a positive effect on Congress’ ability to function? Congress looked seriously and comprehensively at related issues in 1978 in its Commission on Administrative Review (H. Doc. 95–178), chaired by David Obey. It is time for another look.

Second, for those who care about the legislative branch, Congress must do a better job of making available information about itself. It was nearly impossible to obtain copies of staff salary surveys. Not until this past year were House Expenditure Reports, which include staff pay, made available online, and they’re in a terrible format that is difficult to evaluate. The Senate won’t begin publishing comparable data online until the 3rd quarter of 2011. The publication Vital Statistics on Congress 2008 is incredibly useful, but was compiled by private researchers. Again, Congress should make this information available online in formats that lend themselves to easy analysis.

Third, there is too little information about lobbyist pay, lobbying, and the effect of the revolving door. More research is needed; we also need better tracking of these activities.

Fourth, this analysis is separate from the ongoing debate over executive branch salaries.

Finally, we identify a number of useful questions, but our analysis is necessarily limited. Addressing the incentives that affect how staffers gain expertise and evaluate policy choices — even if incompletely — is worth additional attention. To that end, we are making available all of the data we used, except when we are not permitted to do so for copyright reasons. (See staff salary data [XLS] and House vital statistics [XLS].) Please let us know what you think.

Disclosure: I formerly worked as a hill staffer and for a legislative support agency.