Today, the staff for Senator Markey’s office took the unprecedented step of seeking voluntary recognition of their effort to unionize. Although the House of Representatives in the 117th Congress granted its employees the ability to exercise their rights to collectively negotiate, the Senate has yet to take similar action. Demand Progress supports Senator Markey’s staff and the right for every Senate and joint congressional staffer to unionize.
“We applaud the staff of Senator Markey for seeking voluntary recognition for their nascent union,” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor of Demand Progress, a non-governmental organization focused on strengthening our democracy that led a broad coalition to advocate for the right of congressional staff to unionize in both chambers and pushed for higher staff pay and benefits.
“Seeking union recognition can be a difficult and intimidating process, but it is a crucial step towards securing workers’ rights and protections. The staff of Senator Markey’s office have shown courage and determination in their decision to unionize, a right federal employees, including those at the Architect of the Capitol, Library of Congress, and Capitol Police, have enjoyed have enjoyed for decades.
We urge Senate leadership to introduce a resolution in accordance with the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 to support Senate and joint congressional workers in their right to collectively negotiate without fear of retaliation. Providing these protections to all congressional staffers will foster a safer and more equitable workplace.”
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 In its recent press release, the OCWR said the 1996 regulations are “woefully outdated” and the new regulations will modernize the overtime provisions to bring Legislative branch employees’ overtime pay to parity with the Executive branch and the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.
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:
The public does not have real time access to bills and amendments as they are considered on the Senate floor. This week, Demand Progress, Lincoln Network, and a coalition of 41 other organizations and 15 experts sent a letter to Senate leadership requesting the Senate publish bills and amendments online while they are still under consideration.
On October 18, 2021, the Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats released draft bill text, an explanatory statement, and a subcommittee summary for the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill. We reviewed the contents and compared the proposed funding to the enacted levels from the last Congress.
Senate Democrats’ CJS appropriationsbill includes a discretionary funding level of $79.7 billion, an increase of $8.55 billion over the FY 2021 enacted levels, a 12% increase. By comparison, the House version was favorably reported by committee but has not passed the chamber; it provided for a funding level of $81.3 billion.
The Senate CJS Committee Explanatory Statement included several notable provisions that caught our eye:
— The Foreign Agents Registration Act is the focus of a request that directs the Attorney General to evaluate the feasibility of requiring all filings be submitted in an electronic, structured data format and published in a searchable, sortable, downloadable format. (p. 89) Demand Progress had requested language on FARA be included.
— Whistleblower protection at the Justice Department is the focus of two directives within the explanatory statement. The first raises concerns that contractors are not being protected despite a mandate, and the committee directs the DOJ to explain how the agency will implement unresolved recommendations. (p. 75) In addition, the FBI must report on how it will implement unresolved GAO recommendations from 2015. (p. 94)
— Serious misconduct identified by the OIG is not being prosecuted by the DOJ, and the committee directs the Attorney General to publish the number of cases referred for prosecution, the number of cases the DOJ declines to prosecute, and the reasons why. (p. 77)
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).
Bipartisan Coalition Supports Efforts To Keep the Senate Operational in an Emergency
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 14, 2021
CONTACT: Daniel Schuman, policy director, Demand Progress, [email protected], 240-237-3930
Washington, DC — The Senate must act to ensure its continuity in a national crisis, according to a bipartisan coalition of 18 organizations and six congressional experts in two letters sent today to Senate leadership and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. The signatories commended Sens. Portman and Durbin for their bipartisan efforts as embodied in S.Res. 201, a resolution to amend the Senate Standing Rules and enable the participation of absent senators during a national crisis. The letters were organized by the progressive organization Demand Progress and the moderate organization the Niskanen Center.
“The Senate is operating without a safety net and must act now to ensure it can function in a future emergency,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Progress. “We are encouraged by the bipartisan efforts of Sens. Portman and Durbin to plan for the future and we commend their bipartisan efforts to ensure our democracy endures,” Schuman added.
“It’s high time to implement policies that reflect the realities of our lawmaking bodies and the incredible capabilities of America’s technological and security advancements, ” said Kristie De Peña, Niskanen’s vice president of policy. “We are proud that so many prominent organizations joined us in this effort to encourage pragmatic changes at this critical juncture,” De Peña added.
The COVID-19 pandemic and attack on the Capitol are two recent illustrations of the importance of the Senate being ready to implement new ways to conduct its business, as were 9/11 and the Anthrax attacks 20 years ago. We can never know when the next danger will come out of the clear blue sky and we must get ready in advance. S.Res. 201 is an important bipartisan measure that sets aside partisanship to ensure that our republican can continue its legislative and oversight responsibilities even in a time of crisis.
You can read the full letter from Demand Progress, the Niskanen Center, endorsed by XX bipartisan organizations, here and here and below:
For decades, Congress has undercut its ability to meet its Constitution obligations by providing itself inadequate resources to meet its legislative, constitutional, and oversight responsibilities. Discretionary Executive branch resources, and power, on the other hand, have grown at more than double the rate of the Legislative branch. In addition, Congress has been driven to rely on lobbyists for expertise because it lacks the in-house expertise.
Today a coalition of nearly 70 individuals, good government advocates, and businesses have sent a message for appropriators: it’s time to reinvest in Congress. The letter was organized by Demand Progress and the Lincoln Network.
Less than 1% of all discretionary federal funds go to Congress and its support agencies, and while non-defense discretionary spending has increased 55% over the last 25 years, the Legislative branch budget has grown just 30% in that same period. And the vast majority of those funds have gone for non-legislative purposes, such as the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol.
I watched a little of this past week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings and can’t say I enjoyed — or was enlightened — by it very much. Alexis de Tocqueville observed 185 year ago that “there is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.” While members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a certain Supreme Court nominee might publicly contend otherwise, there’s hardly a question about the fitness of a judicial nominee that isn’t actually a political question. That is what judicial confirmation hearings are all about: the judgment of the person nominated to become a Justice.