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.’”

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!

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Make U.S. Capitol Police IG Reports Publicly Available Online

Federal inspectors general routinely publish their findings online. This helps hold federal agencies to account by creating public and internal pressure to address the concerns raised by the IG and creating a record should they fail to fix problems. However, the Capitol Police Inspector General is one of a handful of IGs that withholds their reports from the public. On Monday, Demand Progress wrote to the committees that oversee the Capitol Police to request they direct the Capitol Police Inspector General to publish its final reports online.

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All Non-Confidential CRS Reports Should be Available Online

The public does not have access to a comprehensive database of non-confidential Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports. Recently, Demand Progress, American Enterprise Institute, and Free Government Information, and a coalition of 39 other organizations and 21 experts on Congress, including many CRS analysts, wrote to Representative Zoe Lofgren and Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Chair and Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on the Library, requesting they direct the Library of Congress to publish all non-confidential CRS reports online.

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Put Senate Bills and Amendments Online Before Votes

First Page of Letter encouraging the Senate to publish floor amendments online

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.

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First Reactions to Senate Democrats’ Commerce, Justice, Science FY 2022 Appropriations Subcommittee Bill

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 appropriations bill 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

We were disappointed to see that language requiring transparency for Office of Legal Counsel opinions was not included in the Senate version. This language, which would have encouraged the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to proactively release final OLC legal opinions, had been included in the House CJS Appropriations Committee Report (thanks, in large part, to the leadership of Rep. Cartwright). Here’s why final OLC opinions should be available to Congress and the public. However, so long as the explanatory language is not modified or negated in the version adopted by the Senate or agreed to by the chambers, the House’s pro-disclosure language will become operative.

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)

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First Reactions to Senate Democrats’ Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee Bill

On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats released draft text, explanatory statements, and summaries for nine appropriations bills, including the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. We reviewed the bill text, explanatory report, and subcommittee bill summary and compared the proposed funding to the enacted levels from the last Congress. 

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).

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What Items Are Due to Congress: August 2021

Congress regularly requests reports on strengthening Congress but there’s no central place to keep track of what they’ve requested.

To help keep track of things, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of projects, broken down by item due, entity responsible, and due date.

The catalog covers reforms and requests ordered by the House and Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittees, the Committee on House Rules, and the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. At the moment, the catalog includes major resolutions and measures: H. Res. 8, the House Rules for the 117th Congress, Legislative Branch Appropriations FY 2021, and H.Res. 756 from the 116th Congress.

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We continue to update this list each month for what’s due and what’s outstanding. Here are the February, March, and April, May, June, and July editions.

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Demand Progress Proposals Included in FY 2022 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill and Report

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On Tuesday, June 29th, 2021, the full House Appropriations Committee favorably (33-25) reported the FY 2022 Legislative Branch Subcommittee Bill and report. The FY 2022 House Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill and Committee report 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 2022 Appropriations requests, FY 2022 appropriations testimony, and 2020 report on updating House Rules  — 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 thoughtful consideration of our requests.

As the Senate considers what to include in its Legislative Branch Subcommittee bill and report, we highlight some of the notable provisions included in the House bill and report. 

Find the complete FY Legislative Branch House Bill here, the report here, and the full committee adopted amendments here. For resources on prior Legislative Branch Appropriations bills, go here.

We did not address this below, but we believe this bill takes a giant leap forward to restoring strength to the Legislative Branch through its efforts to redress decades of underfunding. You can see how line item funding changed over last year. The following addresses some of the policy language included in the bill but there is too much to summarize in this blogpost. Although we were unable to include everything below, you can find a complete list of FY 2022 Legislative Branch Appropriations report items in this comprehensive spreadsheet.

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Video: Demand Progress Webinar on FY 2022 Appropriations Public Witness Testimony

Demand Progress hosted a webinar on Friday, April 30 to hear from presenters who otherwise would have testified in person before the appropriations subcommittees on improving government transparency and accountability.

This webinar was moderated by Taylor J. Swift, policy advisor for Demand Progress. The timestamps for each presenter are included below.

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