Demand Progress Proposals Included in FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Bills and Explanatory Statement

On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy published 12 appropriations bills and accompanying explanatory statements, including the FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and explanatory statement. These measures will not go through the traditional hearing and mark-up process. The bill and explanatory statement are packed with good government reforms and significant investments in Congressional operations. 

We and our civil society colleagues recommended dozens of items to include — see our FY 2023 Appropriations requests, FY 2023 appropriations testimony, and report on updating House Rules for the 117th Congress — a number of which made it into the bill and report. We are deeply appreciative of Chair Jack Reed, Ranking Member Mike Braun, and members of the committee for their consideration of our requests.

Read more:

There are a few provisions in the Senate Legislative Branch Subcommittee bill and explanatory statement to note as the Senate is now moving through its appropriations process. They include:

  • Strong investments in staff pay and benefits, including an increase in the SOPOEA to allow Senators to pay their full-time staff a $45,000 salary minimum, as well as the creation of a bipartisan diversity and inclusion working group.
  • More resources for improving legislative branch access to Executive branch information, including the creation of a new joint CBO, LOC, and GAO working group to examine the issues of legislative data access between the Legislative branch and Executive branch agencies.
  • Heightened funding for congressional operations, including creating a centralized repository for Senate documents where legislative information would be available prior to or contemporaneously with decisions; enhancing tracking of legislation on Congress.gov; improved floor scheduling information on Congress.gov; as well as improving reporting of lobbyists’ activities.
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Items Included In FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Explanatory Statement

On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy published 12 appropriations bills and accompanying explanatory statements, including the FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and explanatory statement.

To help keep track of all explanatory statement items requested by the Senate Legislative Branch Subcommittee, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of items, broken down by title, the entity responsible, the timeline for completion, and the due date. See the spreadsheet here and below:

Statement on passage of the Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act

The House included the Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act as an amendment to the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed last week.

“In passing the Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act, Congress just took an important step to increase transparency of political appointees, who are among the most senior leaders of the Executive branch, and known for having ‘plum positions’ because of their close and confidential relationships with key officials and ability to steer policy matters with little public oversight,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress.

“The PLUM Act provides Congress and taxpayers with a tool to hold administrations and their appointees accountable by requiring the Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to create a frequently-updated online directory of senior government leaders and vacant senior Executive branch positions. This is a vast improvement over the current practice of publishing a paper-only book every four years and should also increase the visibility of public service opportunities and widen the pool of diverse candidates pursuing high-level positions in the federal government.

Demand Progress has long supported the bill, and we commend Representatives Connolly, Castro, Mfume, Ocasio-Cortez, Sarbanes; Del. Norton; and Senators Braun, Duckworth, and Merkley for advancing this bipartisan legislation to resolve an important issue raised by the Government Accountability Office, which noted in a March 2019 report that ‘there is no single source of data on political appointees serving in the executive branch that is publicly available, comprehensive, and timely.’”

Demand Progress Proposals Included in FY 2023 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bills and Report

On Wednesday, June 22, 2022, the full House Appropriations Committee favorably (32-26) reported the FY 2023 Legislative Branch Subcommittee Bill (with amendments) and committee report. They are packed with good government reforms and significant investments in Congress’s capacity to legislate, conduct oversight, serve constituents, and more.

We and our civil society colleagues made recommendations of dozens of items to include — see our FY 2023 Appropriations requests, FY 2023 appropriations testimony, and report on updating House Rules for the 117th Congress — a number of which made it into the bill and report. We are deeply appreciative of Chair Ryan, Ranking Member Herrera Beutler, and members of the committee for their consideration of our requests. For resources on prior Legislative Branch Appropriations bills, go here.

We already have published summaries of what the House included in its FY 2023 Leg Branch Approps bill text, and you can see the changes in the appropriations line items here

As the Senate considers what to include in its Legislative Branch Subcommittee bill and report, we highlight a few provisions in the House bill that the Senate should consider for itself. They include:

  • Creation of new offices to enhance diversity and inclusion, specifically the creation of the House Intern Resource Office and the Office of Translation Services.
  • Strong investments in staff benefits and care, specifically child care, emergency care (which now include custodial and contract workers), and student loan repayments.
  • Heightened funding for technology and modernization projects, specifically the congressional staff directory, collaborative legislative drafting tools, standardization of legislative documents, and separate technology modernization fund. 

Although we were unable to include everything below, you can find a complete list of FY 2023 Legislative Branch Appropriations report items in a comprehensive spreadsheet. The following are some of the highlights. 

Appropriations Spreadsheet

To help keep track of all items requested by the Legislative Branch Subcommittee, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of items, broken down by title, the entity responsible, the timeline for completion, and the due date. See the spreadsheet here and below:

Continue reading “Demand Progress Proposals Included in FY 2023 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bills and Report”

First Reactions to the Draft FY 2023 House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Bill

The House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee today released its draft FY 2023 appropriations bill accompanied by a press release. The subcommittee markup is tomorrow at 11 am ET — the full committee vote is next Wednesday — and we won’t know what is in the committee report until the day before the full committee markup. We reviewed the legislation and compared the proposed funding to the enacted levels from prior years. (If you’re interested in the documents from prior Congresses, we have compiled them here.)

At first glance, this bill is packed with many smart funding decisions that will help strengthen Congress. In particular, we noticed significant adjustments to personal, committee, and leadership staff funding; improving the intern pipeline by providing a living wage and the creation of a new intern resource office; a significant investment in modernizing the House’s technology and implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, and providing adequate funding to support the House unionization process. There are also significant changes in funding levels for offices and policy agencies, including the GAO. We also note tremendous amounts of new money for the Capitol Police and the Architect. 

We applaud the hard work of Chair Ryan, Ranking Member Herrera Buetler, and all members of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee who have demonstrated good stewardship of the Legislative branch. We look forward to seeing the many provisions that will be contained in the committee report and reflect more granular decisions concerning improving Legislative branch operations. 

Appropriators have proposed a $5.7 billion funding level, which is a $954.4 million increase over FY 2022, or a 20.1 percent increase. Please note that this does not include funding for the Senate, which will add approximately $1 billion dollars. A whopping 71.4% of the increase will go to the Capitol Police and Architect. This raises significant concerns with us, most notably because historically funding for the USCP and the Architect has resulted in significant decreases in funding for Congress’s policy apparatus, which will become more of a problem in subsequent years.

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First Branch Forecast for May 31, 2022: Capture the Flag

TOP LINE 

This week. Happy Memorial Day recess—both chambers are out this week, giving us (and hopefully you, too) a chance to take a break, or at least slow down.

Approps. We were expecting Senate Leg branch approps hearing with the USCP, GAO, and Library of Congress last week, but it was postponed. Stay tuned

Approps timeline. Here is our list of deadlines to submit appropriations requests and testimony. According to Bloomberg government ($): in the House expect June markups teeing up July floor votes; in the Senate expect markups in July and early August. The Senate timeline will depend heavily on whether senior Appropriators reach an agreement on the top line spending numbers for defense (wartime) and non-defense (peacetime) spending. Summer recess is currently scheduled to start July 29 (House) and August 5 (Senate). 

More appropriations. It’s possible there will be more supplemental appropriations bills, and of course there’s the upcoming markup of the (authorizing) National Defense Authorization Act, which means the calendar could go sideways.

Earmarks? Appropriations bills could contain significantly more earmark requests than last year’s, and more people are requesting earmarks, according to Roll Call, although the total amount is kept as a constant percentage of federal discretionary spending.

Unionization timeline clarified. OCWR published a statement that regulations allowing House staff to unionize will go into effect on July 18, 2022 (not July 15, as we wrote last week). The regulations were published on May 16, 2022. The OCWR has the authority to shorten that time period for “good cause,” an authority it thus far has declined to exercise.

Next week. We’re planning on taking a week off from the newsletter, unless of course something big happens. Send us your tips!

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for May 31, 2022: Capture the Flag”

House Breaks Promise to Committee Staff On Pay Adjustment

Spreadsheet of spending on committees

Earlier today, the Committee on House Administration favorably reported a resolution to provide a 10% pay adjustment to most committee staff — which sounds like good news until you remember that the House had promised a 21% adjustment, in line with increases to personal office and leadership staff. I realized the discrepancy yesterday when crunching the numbers, which I’ve published below.

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Key Funding Items Included in the FY 2022 Legislative Branch Bill

The FY 2022 appropriations omnibus was passed by both houses of Congress this past week and President Biden is expected to shortly sign the measure into law. The FY 2022 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill was rolled into the package, and it is packed with good government reforms and significant investments in Congress’s capacity to legislate, conduct oversight, serve constituents, and more. This legislation takes a giant leap forward to restoring strength to the Legislative branch through its efforts to address decades of underfunding.

We and our civil society colleagues recommended dozens of items to include as part of the bill text and committee report — see our FY 2022 Appropriations requests, FY 2022 appropriations testimony, and 2020 report on updating House Rules — many of which appropriations graciously considered and included.

As Congress turns to the FY 2023 appropriations process, this blogpost highlights some of the notable funding changes reflected in the FY 2022 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill. You can find the complete FY 22 Legislative Branch portion of the bill here and the Joint Explanatory Statement here. For resources on prior Legislative Branch Appropriations bills, go here. In a future blogpost, we will look at the report language.

You can compare final line item funding for FY 21 versus FY 22 by looking at our spreadsheet. It is somewhat confusing, as some agencies/entities are funded by more than one line on the spreadsheet. We hope to have a summary version in the near future. Here is funding by line item over the last 25 years, not including the about-to-be-enacted fiscal year.

The FY 22 Legislative Branch bill appropriates $5.925 billion towards the Legislative Branch, a $625.0 million increase over FY 2021, representing 11.8 percent increase. Roughly 40 percent of the increase will go to the Capitol Police and Architect.

Among the key funding features of this legislation include:

A 21 percent increase to personal, committee, and leadership offices in the House.
The House saw a $134.4 million (21%) increase for the Member Representational Allowance (MRA) to $774.4 million, which represents the largest MRA increase since the line item was created in 1996. The House also saw a $6 million (21%) increase in Majority and Minority Leadership funding to $34.9 million, as well as a $34.2 (21%) increase in funding for House committee operations. This funding in the House signifies a significant investment in helping to rebuild congressional capacity and staff pay.

The Senate’s SOPOEA — the Senate equivalent to the House MRA — funding level saw a slight increase by $25.3 million from $461 million in FY 21 to $486.3 million in FY 22, representing a 5.5 percent increase. The Senate historically has incorporated an automatic increase in funding for its constituent service staff based upon growth in the states, so it has done a somewhat better job increasing its funding over the years.

Paying interns more.
In the House, personal offices saw a 40 percent increase in aggregate internship funding, with a $4.4 million increase to $15.4 million. Leadership office intern funds were increased by $240.5 thousand for the Majority and $197.5 thousand for the Minority, representing 20.5 percent and 19.8 percent increases respectively. For the first time, the House funded committee interns, at a level of $2.3 million.

In the Senate, funding for internships increased by $1 million, from $6 million to $7 million, representing a 16.7 percent increase. Senate committee internships did not receive any funding.

These internship funding increases should help broaden pathways for students (and veterans) from all walks of life to experience working for Congress. We note that funding for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion doubled from $1.5 million to $3 million, which means that this newly widened pathway will make it possible for more people to get their foot on the first rung of the Congressional ladder.

Substantive increases in support offices funding.
In the House, support offices like the Clerk (+14%), Sergeant at Arms (+19%), and Whistleblower Ombuds (+25%) saw significant increases. The Clerk needs the funds to support its technology operations and ongoing modernization initiatives, and the SAA has significant security components. The Chief Administrative Office, which continues to produce great work around staff and member training, saw a 9 percent increase from $177 million in FY 21 to $193.2 million in FY 22. We also note real increases for the important but often overlooked Office of General Counsel (+5.3%), Legislative Counsel (+5.8%), and Law Revision Counsel (+3.8%).

In the Senate, the largest percentage funding increase went to the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, which had a 141.5 percent funding increase from $9.5 million in FY21 to $23 million in FY 22. The Senate Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper saw a $9.68 million increase to $98.5 million, representing a 10.9 percent increase from FY 21. Policymaking support offices, like the Office of the Legislative Counsel of the Senate (10%) and Office of Senate Legal Counsel (8.5%), saw increases as well.

Increases for the legislative policy support agencies.
The Government Accountability Office saw a significant increase in funding, a $58.1 million increase to $729 million (+8.8%), although it is significantly below its historical funding levels when adjusted for inflation. Increases in funding for GAO has a high probability of leading to substantial long run savings — GAO estimates that every dollar spent on GAO has a 110-120x return on the investment.

There were increases in other legislative policy support agencies: Congressional Research Service (2.9%), Congressional Budget Office (6.4%), and Government Publishing Office (the actual amount is unclear because of how the revolving door fund works)

The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights saw no increase in funding. With the ongoing unionization push in the House, this flat funding likely will be insufficient in FY 23.

The Capitol Police Receive a Significant Funding Increase
The Capitol Police will receive an additional $87 million from $515.5 million in FY 21 to $602.5 million in FY 22, representing a 16.9 percent increase. USCP aims to use additional funding to pay for new sworn officers and civilian members, although they likely will find it hard to sustain that level of hiring. Unlikely other Legislative Branch entities, the Capitol Police are always well funded and routinely enjoy significant increases. As we have written elsewhere, the major problems at the Capitol Police lie with poor leadership, bad management, and a lack of training, something that funding cannot resolve.

The Architect of the Capitol Received a Significant Funding Increase.
The Architect of the Capitol saw an increase of $98.8 million from $675.1 million in FY 21 to $773.9 million in FY 22, representing a 14.6 percent increase. There is also an additional $16.3 million in increased funding representing a 35 percent increase, for USCP buildings, grounds, and security, which is housed under Architect funding. Funding includes $128 million to continue restoration of the Cannon House Office Building.

Strengthening Congressional Oversight: A ModCom Hearing

Congressional oversight powers were the focus of a House Modernization Committee hearing this past week. We were impressed because the discussion went past many clichéd, inaccurate observations that are often advanced concerning what’s broken in Congress and moved to diagnosing the impediments to Congress holding the Executive branch to account and making recommendations on fixes.

By way of background, here is the video of the hearing and here is the written testimony for witnesses Elise Bean, Josh Chaffetz, and Anne Tindall, who all did an excellent job. Demand Progress submitted a brief report containing four major recommendations on how Congress can strengthen its oversight, and you might also be interested in our 2020 primer (with POGO) on Congressional staff clearances. We also would be remiss if we did not point you to the excellent congressional oversight handbook written by the inimitable Mort Rosenberg entitled When Congress Comes Calling.

The Problem

Congress has a difficult time obtaining timely, accurate, complete, and insightful answers from the Executive branch on its activities. It is not unusual for the Executive branch to slow walk responses to Congress, provide non-relevant information, or simply stonewall demands for information. 

Traditional mechanisms by which Congress can vindicate its requests for information, such as through the appropriations process, are slow and often obstructed by a combination of Congress’s consensual mechanisms, problems arising from timeliness, and Executive branch defiances. Other mechanisms, such as holding up nominations, only work (at times) in one chamber — the Senate. More direct methods to force witnesses to comply, such as through statutory contempt, must go through the gauntlets of a Department of Justice unwilling to enforce such findings and federal courts that are glacially slow, unwilling to get involved, and often partial to Executive branch perspectives.

Continue reading “Strengthening Congressional Oversight: A ModCom Hearing”