On September 28, 2022, the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) announced its Board of Directors voted to update regulations implementing the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The OCWR Board of Directors also called on Congress to approve the proposed changes in the Congressional Record.
The current FLSA regulations that apply to Congress were issued by the Office of Compliance (the previous name of the OCWR) back in 1996. In its recent press release, the OCWR said the 1996 regulations are “woefully outdated” and the new regulations will modernize the overtime provisions to bring Legislative branch employees’ overtime pay to parity with the Executive branch and the private sector.
The updated proposed regulations are here, and the current regulations are available here.
In March 2021, the OCWR Board of Directors issued its Section 102(b) report for the 117th Congress. The reports provides several recommendations that have not been implemented within the Legislative branch, as well as additional recommendations to amend the CAA to increase transparency and workforce protections. Some of the recommendations include:
Providing general whistleblower protections and anti-retaliation measures and making additional OSHA retaliation provisions applicable to the Legislative branch.
Providing subpoena authority to OCWR to conduct inspections and investigations into OSHA violations.
Prohibiting Legislative branch offices from making adverse employment decisions on the basis of an employee’s wage garnishment or involvement in bankruptcy proceedings.
Bolstering the CAA’s recordkeeping requirements.
In August 2022, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced legislation, the Congress Leads by Example Act of 2022 (H.R. 8743), that would put into effect recommendations from the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. Del. Norton has introduced a version of this bill every Congress since 2011.
Congress should look to pass H.R. 8742 and the updated OCWR regulations during the lame duck period.
Written by Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor with Demand Progress Education Fund
There was a feeling of serendipity during this week’s final Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress hearing, where Members, witnesses, and staff all gathered to discuss the work of the committee and what the future may look like for this work. The Committee — or ModCom — has been working for the past two Congresses to examine ways to make the institution more modern, efficient, and transparent. It favorably reported over 170 recommendations with more on the way. It also recently introduced its second resolution which contains 32 recommendations. The hearing felt like the culmination of everything the committee, its staff, and its stakeholder groups have been working towards.
The question on the table was: where does this modernization work go from here?
Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor was the first committee witness. Her testimony focused how the CAO has implemented several of the ModCom recommendations to strengthen the House, its offices, and its workforce. Whether it’s the creation of the Human Resources Hub, the House Resume Bank, the House Digital Service; the adoption of Quill — an online e-signature platform; and investment in staff training through the CAO Coach program, Szpindor comprehensively outlined how her office has listened to the committee and followed through on its commitments to foster a more modern, transparent, an inclusive workplace. Szpindor mentioned during the discussion portion that the CAO has monthly status meetings with stakeholders and staff regarding implementation tracking. The CAO also uses an internal tracker called ClickUp to keep things organized.
Diane Hill of the Partnership for Public Service was the committee witness representing the Fix Congress Cohort, a group of over four dozen civil society groups and academics that includes Demand Progress. Hill’s testimony centered around providing four different avenues for which the modernization work can continue, including providing a pathway for ModCom’s recommendations to be implemented past the 117th Congress. Hill’s testimony mirrors some of the recommendations that we made for the future of this work. The four options in Hill’s testimony included:
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.
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.
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:
Demand Progress Education Fund hosted a virtual event on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, titled“The Power in Unions in Congress: Know Your Rights.” The event featured recorded remarks from Representative Andy Levin, lead sponsor of the House congressional unionization resolution.
Panelists helped clarify what rights and protections will be granted to congressional staffers, what will happen when staffers officially unionize their offices, and also discussed the history of the unionization movement in Congress.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
How Congress makes sense of the world was the focus of a House Modernization Committee hearing today that honed in on the operations of three support agencies: the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, and the Congressional Budget Office. It was one of the most insightful hearings of the 117th Congress.
Congress created its support agencies to provide the Legislative branch with information and analysis unsullied by Executive branch bias. Congress began funding its own expert policy support agencies because funding can shape an organization’s behavior and responsiveness, including the perspectives and focus of its staff.
Today’s hearing had the agency heads as witnesses: Gene Dodaro for GAO, Mary Mazanec for CRS, and Phillip Swagel for CBO; it also had a second panel of experts who provided critical insight into those agencies: Zach Graves on GAO, Wendy Ginsberg on CRS, and Philip Joyce on CBO. While the agency heads were not placed on the same panel with the experts, they were asked to respond to the experts’ recommendations that had through happenstance been released ahead of time, which provided a useful starting point. (This makes me wonder whether a best practice for committees might be to require and publish written testimony a week in advance and request that oral testimony incorporate responses to the testimony from others.)
This was a modernization hearing, not an oversight hearing, so the focus was on the direction the policy support agencies are heading and not specific details on where and why they are falling short. Oversight work generally falls upon the Legislative branch Appropriations Committees that have jurisdiction over all three agencies and, to varying degrees, the authorizing committees: House Admin and Senate Rules for CRS; House Oversight and Senate HSGAC for GAO; and the Budget Committees for CBO.
Senate Democratic Appropriators proposed a discretionary funding level of $29.4 billion, a $4.8 billion increase compared to FY 2021 enacted levels, or 16.3 percentage increase. This proposal represents $154 million less than the president’s request. For reference, the House-version — which passed the House in July as part of a minibus (here’s the committee report) — proposed $29.1 billion. Senate Republicans disapproved of Democrats publication of these bills and are calling for an agreement on top line spending levels; Democrats have been calling for negotiations for months.
Prior to this appropriations cycle, we compiled a list of ideas to include in the FY 2022 FSGG Appropriations bill. They include creating virtual visitor logs, providing centralized access to agency congressional budget justifications, public access to OMB apportionment decisions, listing unpublished IG reports on oversight.gov, improving congressional and public access to IG reports, and a COVID-19 spending tracker.
We note two notable provisions in the Senate’s explanatory statement:
1. Apportionment Transparency
Providing $1 million to OMB to create a system to make apportionment of appropriations publicly available in a timely manner. Once the system is complete, OMB will be required to place each apportionment document on the public website within two days. (p. 45 of bill text and p. 28 of explanatory statement).
2. Federal Government Internships
Directing OPM to develop a strategy — which includes working with federal agencies and nonprofits — to increase the number of interns in the federal government over a three-year period. The strategy must include recruitment practices, onboarding, professional development, and offboarding (p. 83 of the explanatory statement).