The passage of the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for FY 2020 back in December started the clock on a number of projects and reports inside the legislative branch. We took a look at the requests, broke them down by office, and summarized the deadlines, which are drawn from the House committee report, the Senate committee report, and the Joint Explanatory Statement.
Congress is significantly underfunded — especially compared to the executive branch — and it has suffered deep staff cuts over the last 25 years. In March and in September, we co-authored letters naming the fact that not only does the Legislative Branch receive the smallest funding level of the 12 appropriations subcommittees, it has received funding cuts (in real terms) over the last decade even as other appropriations subcommittees have received increases.
As we speak, the House and Senate are negotiating over how much in new funding to give to each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees. In play is how to divvy up a significant increase in overall funding: a $27 billion increase in non-defense discretionary spending over the next fiscal year.
According to CRS, in FY 2019 the legislative branch was funded at $4.836 billion. How does the proposed increases in Leg Branch funding from the House and Senate compare to last year’s funding level?
According to the Architect of the Capitol, it will take several billion dollars to keep the Congress from literally falling apart. This, and much more, was the subject of four legislative branch appropriations hearings this past week.
It’s not just the physical infrastructure of Congress that’s eroding, the power of the institution has taken a hit over the years with budget cuts. The result has been executive branch overreach as well as cyber security and IT practices falling miles behind best practices.
The legislative branch appropriations subcommittee in charge of doling out the funds that keep the branch functioning has the smallest pot of money to work with in the federal government: last year its funding was only approximately $4.3 billion, with overall federal spending about 1000x greater at $4.3 trillion.
To put this in context, $1.244 trillion was allocated to the 12 appropriations committees for FY 2019. The amount for the legislative branch is so small you can’t see it on the chart — it’s the bright green sliver. Here’s the amounts from least to greatest: Legislative Branch ($4.8b), Agriculture ($23b), Financial Services ($23b), Interior & Environment ($35.6b), Energy & Water ($44.6b), State & Foreign Ops ($46.2b), Homeland Security ($49.4b), Commerce & Science & Justice ($64.1b), Transportation & HUD ($71.1b), Military Construction & VA ($97.1b), Labor & HHS & Education ($178.1b), Defense ($606.5b). (There’s an additional $77b for “Overseas Contingent Operations,” of which $67.9b went to Defense.)
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously adopted the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for 2019 (committee bill text, committee report), advancing the measure to the full chamber. The legislation contains provisions concerning the Senate’s ability to do its job, mirroring in some instances provisions contained in the House bill, which was passed by that chamber last week. (As is common practice for Senate legislative branch appropriations, there was no public subcommittee markup and the full committee markup was recorded as audio only — listen to the last 8 minutes here).
Among the highlights of what was included in the bill text or committee report: Continue reading “What’s in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s 2019 Leg Branch Approps Bill”
On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee favorably reported the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act for FY 2019, which contains a few transparency-related measures and a few omissions. (Bill as reported; Committee Report as reported). I’ll address a few of the items:
- Central website for Congressional Budget Justifications
- No direct funding for Oversight.Gov
- DATA Act/ USASpending.gov Implementation
- Undermining Civil Liberties Oversight
- New Technology Investments
- Pushing SEC and Open Corporate Data
- Preventing Easy Tax Filing
The recently-signed omnibus spending law contains transparency provisions intended to make our federal government just a little more open and accountable. They include: creating a hub for the reports that explain each agency’s federal spending request; a first step towards opening up federal court orders for everyone to read without charge; creating a central repository for reports by the federal Inspectors General; and making reports by the Congressional Research Service available to everyone.
While all these measures are important, the hardest fought is public access to CRS reports. CRS provides non-partisan unbiased explanations of policy matters before Congress, and they make it easier for all of us to have conversations based on the facts.
Earlier today I tweeted a request for evidence that members of the House Appropriations Committee used to be granted staff designees — staffers paid by the committee that are chosen by and serve the individual members of the committee — but that the designees are being phased out. The following is evidence of that practice. Continue reading “Staff Designees on the House Appropriations Committee”