Forecast for April 15, 2019. First hundred days.

HOUSE OPERATIONS

Technology staff hiring faces huge challenges, according to House Clerk Cheryl Johnson and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving. At this past week’s House Admin hearing, both agencies said they struggle with hiring and retaining IT personnel, a topic that came up several times. The House officers identified insufficient resources to pay staff, the pay cap, and increased competition from companies like Amazon for talent. Eliminating the pay cap would be very helpful — staff currently cannot earn more than a member of Congress, whose pay has been frozen at $174k since 2009, and is $41,000 less than what an equivalent member of congress earned in 1998 (adjusted for inflation).

Chief Administrative Officer Philip Kiko proposed creating a tech innovation lab, “where Member offices will be able to test, evaluate, and share innovative tools and ideas.” One such innovative idea was raised by Rep. Susan Davis, who proposed digitizing the process of co-sponsoring bills. There are about 135,000 co-sponsorships each Congress, and the Clerk’s office spends five hours a day collecting and confirming those co-sponsors, and then inputting the names into the system. Continue reading “Forecast for April 15, 2019. First hundred days.”

Forecast for April 8, 2019.

AUTHORIZERS AND APPROPRIATORS

This past week House Leg Branch Approps received outside testimony from members of Congress and 18 outside witnesses, of which a dozen were in person, concerning strengthening the legislative branch.

This sets the stage for this Tuesday’s House Admin hearing on House Officer priorities for 2019 and beyond, featuring the Sergeant at Arms, the Clerk, the Chief Administrative Officer, and the House Inspector General. Hopefully there is cross-pollination between Leg Branch Approps public witness testimony and priorities for House officers. (Live stream will be here.)

Meanwhile, Senate Leg Branch Approps will hear funding requests from GAO and CBO on Wednesday. (Live stream will be here.) Use our approps tracker to see all approps witness testimony deadlines.

The big question, according to House Leg Branch Approps Chairman Ryan, is whether there’s sufficient funds for any reform ideas. Congress has long been on a starvation diet, as was noted in this recent letter from several dozen civil society organizations and former members of Congress. Continue reading “Forecast for April 8, 2019.”

Forecast for April 1, 2019. Every Day Is April’s Fools Day.

ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMIN (FRANKLINS): Last week the House approved H. Res 245, which contains House Admin’s recommendations on how to allot funds amongst all the committees (except approps, which is funded separately). The upshot: flat funding for everyone, and a smaller-than-expected amount for the Fix Congress Committee. We break down the numbers and analyze them here. With an unusually large $8m reserve fund, Chairman Lofgren said she’d to work with RM Davis to reach agreement on where the money should go

How big a pie? While House Admin is dividing up what the committees will get, Demand Progress and the Lincoln Network coordinated a letter from nearly fifty civil society organizations and former members of Congress calling on appropriators in the House and Senate to increase the allocation of funds to the legislative branch appropriations subcommittee. These 302b allocations determine how much money is available to each appropriations cardinal; leg branch gets the tiniest percentage of funding and has huge, unavoidable funding challenges ahead.

Speaking of fixing Congress, the Congressional Modernization Committee held its second hearing last week, where congressional experts presented on Congress’s past reform efforts. The meeting was a rare instance on Capitol Hill where it felt like everyone was on the same team trying to solve the same problem. The hearing offered up suggestions for a path forward, some of our picks include: Continue reading “Forecast for April 1, 2019. Every Day Is April’s Fools Day.”

Forecast for March 25, 2019. Only the best and most serious people.

MUELLER LITE? Recess is over, Congress is back, and appropriations season is in full swing, but what is everyone talking about? Sigh. As my kids would say, “BORING!” Let’s talk about Congress instead. The House and Senate are back for three weeks.

PROPOSED HOUSE COMMITTEE ALLOTMENTS (i.e., how much the House will spend on each of its committees) have three surprises for anyone crazy enough to do the numbers. Yep, we’re that crazy. Continue reading “Forecast for March 25, 2019. Only the best and most serious people.”

Forecast for March 18, 2019. The seven-per-cent solution.

SEVEN PERCENT OF THE HOUSE, or 32 Members, spoke at a Member’s Day hearing of the Fix Congress Committee, held on Tuesday, with 35 members submitting written testimony. (VideoWitness statements). The 3 hour hearing, which followed the committee’s organizational meeting that adopting committee rules, is too complex to recap, but we summarized the subject matter in this spreadsheet. FWIW, I was generally impressed by the testimony.

Of the 22 Democrats and 10 Republicans who testified, the most popular issues were staff pay and benefits (8 members), modernizing technology (6 members), and investing in the institution (6 members). Of the three, modernizing technology had bipartisan speakers. In addition, other popular items, such as addressing committee jurisdictions (e.g, fixing the budget process), cyber security, and improving the House calendar, had bipartisan speakers. Roll Call and Issue One have a summary of the proceedings. Follow the committee’s new twitter account here. Continue reading “Forecast for March 18, 2019. The seven-per-cent solution.”

Forecast for March 11, 2019. The Not at SXSW Edition.

IT’S SUNSHINE WEEK, devoted to all things transparency, and there are a ton of Congress tie-ins.

On the House floorset for a vote this week, are: the Access to Congressionally Mandated Report Act (which requires all agency reports sent to Congress to be online on a central website); the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2019 (to improve transparency of the 1,000 federal advisory committees); the Federal Register Modernization Act (which would require the Federal Register to be published electronically, and changes how agencies file); the Electronic Message Preservation Act (which requires the Archivist to promulgate regulations on managing electronic records); and a resolution (H. Con. Res. 24) that Mueller’s report should be publicly available; and more.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee will examine transparency under the Trump administration on Wednesday, with a focus on FOIA. Apparently, the Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to take a pass this Sunshine Week on its annual oversight hearing, which was a consistent feature when Sens. Grassley and Leahy previously ran the committee.

Federal agencies and civil society are hosting a number of events, including a half-day extravaganza on Monday hosted by the National Archives featuring the Archivist, congressional staff, OGIS, and several federal judges. Go herefor the full calendar of events. Continue reading “Forecast for March 11, 2019. The Not at SXSW Edition.”

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: Continue reading “A Look at the US Capitol Police”