Pending Good Government Bills: 116th Congress

The 116th Congress is coming to a close, with Members getting ready to depart to campaign full-time and then return in late-November/December for a lame duck session. Time is running out before bills turn into pumpkins and have to be re-introduced at the start of the next Congress. According to GovTrack, 151 bills have become law so far. By comparison, 12,874 bills have been introduced, or 1.1%, although some of these bills are duplicates of ones that have become law. 

We and our friends in civil society have compiled a non-exhaustive list of pending good government bills that lawmakers should consider pushing across the finish line before time runs out. As legislation that’s further along in the process is more likely to become law, we’ve sorted our list by their status. We’ve further subdivided the list regarding the part of government they would affect.

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House Advances Franking Modernization Bill

The House passed a bill last week designed to bring the Franking Commission into the 21st century. The Communications Outreach Media and Mail Standards Act, or COMMS Act (H.R.7512), extends the commission’s authority to regulate mass communications (i.e., to 500 people or more) by Members and Members-elect. The commission’s authority has historically been limited to mailings but the new language refers to a wider range of communications. 

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The PLUM Act: Transparency for Political Appointees

by Jason Briefel and Maggi Molina

A president will appoint more than 4,000 individuals to serve in an administration, yet “there is no single source of data on political appointees serving in the executive branch that is publicly available, comprehensive, and timely,” according to the Government Accountability Office in a March 2019 report.

Instead, these positions are compiled and published exactly once every four years in a congressional document known as the Plum Book (officially the United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions). This book is published only in December after a presidential election (before the president even gets sworn in) and includes important data for each position, including title, salary and location.  

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New Bill Reclaiming the Congressional Power of the Purse

Chair Yarmuth of the House Budget Committee partnered with House and Senate chairs (Chair Lowey of House Appropriations, Chair Maloney of House Oversight and Reform and Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Leahy) to introduce the bicameral (but not bipartisan) Congressional Power of the Purse Act (H.R.6628).  

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Presidential Signing Statements: Congressional Actions

(Update, 04/24/20): On April 3, we provided a summary of all the congressional actions related to signing statements. Here is an analysis of the common themes in the legislation: 

  • Requires the Executive to give Congress notice and reasoning for all statements.
  • Bars government entities (including state and federal courts) from using signing statements in interpreting the law.
  • Gives Congress standing to seek declaratory relief, allows Congress to intervene in cases or allows Congress to issue “clarifying” statement.  
  • Requires AG, Deputy AG, White House Counsel to testify before Judiciary at the behest of any single member to explain; can’t invoke executive privilege.  
  • Limits funds made available to the Executive to produce, publish, or disseminate any signing statement.
  • Cuts off funding authorized or expended to implement any law accompanied by a signing statement if Executive doesn’t comply with congressional restrictions on signing statements. 

(Original Article) Following up on our discussion of Signing Statements (triggered by the President’s signing statement on the coronavirus relief legislation), here are the hearings and legislation we found on the subject. If we missed something, please email maggi@demandprogress.org

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House Passes Modernization Committee Resolution

Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed H.Res 756, the bipartisan resolution voted unanimously out of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (SCOMC). The resolution includes 29 recommendations that aim to make Congress more effective, efficient and transparent. Some of these recommendations include taking critical steps to improve staff retention and diversity, updating House technology and security, and increasing public access to congressional offices and information.

SCOMC, by definition, does not have any legislative authority. The passage of this resolution marks the first time that legislative action has resulted from a select committee. SCOMC has held 16 hearings and numerous Member and staff-level briefings and listening sessions to solicit ideas and recommendations for reforming the legislative branch since March 2019.

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CBO Changes Make Finding Bill Scores Easy

Capitol West Lawn Bright

Good news for Hill staff and Congressional spending nerds alike: the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has made some significant improvements to how it publishes data. 

The agency, which is responsible for advising Congress on the potential economic impact of legislation, announced several transparency-friendly changes on its site last week. Changes include:  Continue reading “CBO Changes Make Finding Bill Scores Easy”

Comprehensive Good Government Bill Re-Introduced by Rep. Quigley

We have good news for fans of government accountability and cleaning up the swamp: Rep. Mike Quigley has re-introduced the Transparency in Government Act (TGA). The bill is essentially a menu of everything needed to bring greater transparency to the federal government.

Major provisions of the bill include:

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Drafting Legislation Just Got Easier. Introducing BillToText.com

Drafting legislation in Congress can be a daunting process. Typically, staffers provide an outline of the desired bill to the Office of Legislative Counsel (OLC), and an OLC attorney drafts the legislation. This often is an iterative process, with OLC asking questions and congressional staff updating their ideas.

This process can create problems for staff when they request feedback from other congressional offices or outside stakeholders. OLC sends the draft back as a PDF, which staffers can’t change on their own and other stakeholders cannot edit. This makes it hard to collaborate.  

We’ve tried to find a way to improve how Members solicit and receive feedback. We’re proud to introduce BillToText.com, a tool for more efficient drafting. 

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Sens. Peters and Portman Intro Transparency Bill for Agency Spending Plans

On Friday, Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced legislation to make it much easier to find how federal agencies propose to spend federal funds. The Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act of 2019 (S. 2560) requires all agencies to publish a plain language explanation of their funding proposal — known as a Congressional Justification (CJ) —  online within two weeks of submitting them to Congress. Users must be able to download reports individually and in bulk, and agencies are encouraged to publish the CJs as structured data. 

Currently, getting your hands on these federal spending roadmaps can be a challenge. This adds yet another hurdle to tracking federal spending, an already tricky topic. Trust us, we’ve tried. Here’s the problem: Continue reading “Sens. Peters and Portman Intro Transparency Bill for Agency Spending Plans”