Rule of Law(makers)

We’ve previously written about the rules that rule the rules, which has to be one of the world’s wonkiest subjects. In short, each party in the House and Senate has rules that govern their conference or caucus, leading to different party rules for (1) House Democrats, (2) House Republicans, (3) Senate Democrats, and (4) Senate Republicans. 

Party rules shape the power structure inside the party: they govern things like committee chair assignments and term limits for leadership. These rules can empower rank and file members and give them a voice, strengthen committees, or consolidate power in the hands of a few at the top.  Continue reading “Rule of Law(makers)”

Recap of the July 2019 Bulk Data Task Force Meeting

Last week the Bulk Data Task Force (BDTF) convened internal and external stakeholders to discuss, you guessed it, congressional data. 

Established in 2012, the BDTF brings together parties from across the legislative branch—including the House Clerk, the Secretary of the Senate, Government Publishing Office (GPO), Library of Congress (LOC), and more—as well as external expert groups to make congressional information easier to access and use.

Scroll down for a list of tools, both currently available and in the works, as well as announcements from the meeting.  Continue reading “Recap of the July 2019 Bulk Data Task Force Meeting”

A Look at the US Capitol Police

The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) has the mission of ensuring public access to our elected officials while protecting members of Congress and the Capitol campus. The USCP is well resourced, with a $450 million budget — a little larger than the budget for the police department serving Austin, Texas, which has a population of 950,000 people — and amounts to 10% of overall legislative branch spending. The department has over 2,200 employees, which is slightly more personnel than the Atlanta, Georgia, police department. USCP is one of the very few legislative branch agencies to have grown larger over the decades, with an approximate 3% budget increase annually.

What does the well-resourced Capitol Police department do with this significant capacity?

At the tail end of 2018 — prompted by multiple requests — the Capitol Police began publishing weekly arrest summaries online in PDF format. (We retyped that data into this arrest spreadsheet.) We also requested arrest summaries that were made available to some journalists prior to 2019 as well as basic arrest demographic information in a data format, but those requests were not fulfilled.

We analyzed the information that is available — 86 incidents involving 160 individuals between December 19, 2018, and February 28, 2019.

We found the following trends: Continue reading “A Look at the US Capitol Police”

Feds Lag in Publishing Funding Requests

Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are plain-language explanations of how an agency proposes to spend money it requests that Congress appropriate, but how easy is it for congressional staff and citizens to find these documents? Demand Progress surveyed 456 federal agencies and entities for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and found:

  • 7.5 percent of the 173 agencies with congressional liaisons, i.e., 13 agencies, published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. (Agencies with congressional liaison offices routinely interact with Congress). If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure becomes 3.3 percent, or 5 agencies, out of 152 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. The failure of one agency to publish their report impacts a number of sub-agencies. Among the agencies/entities inconsistent in their reporting is the Executive Office of the President, which houses the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the Office of the Vice President.
  • 6.1 percent of the 456 agencies we surveyed published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure changes to 3.1 percent, or 10 agencies, out of 318 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. Among the agencies/entities that inconsistently published their CBJs online are (yet again) the Executive Office of the President and the Access Board.
  • 21 percent of the 456 agencies we surveyed did not publish a CBJ. This is on top of the 6.1 percent that published only one CBJ for 2018 and 2019. We do not know whether these agencies were required to publish a CBJ, or whether their justification might be aggregated under another agency that did not publish its report. Unfortunately, there is no publicly-available comprehensive list of agencies that must publish these justifications.
  • All 24 CFO Act agencies — i.e., those agencies with a Chief Financial Officer created under the CFO Act — published their CBJs online.

Continue reading “Feds Lag in Publishing Funding Requests”

Capitol Police to Publish Some Arrest Information

The US Capitol Police announced yesterday they will publish their weekly arrest summaries online each Wednesday that they had previously had distributed via email to the press. This practice will start on January 2, 2019. The summaries will include “the Capitol File Number (CFN); crime classification with any additional charges; offense date and time, and crime summary. ”

The USCP did not give a reason for the change in their blogpost, but we had made multiple (unsuccessful) requests for information from the Capitol Police and had organized a civil society letter on this topic, and it also seemed likely that incoming House Democrats may push them to take this step. Continue reading “Capitol Police to Publish Some Arrest Information”

The House Office of Inspector General Should Publish Information About Its Reports

The House of Representatives has an Inspector General that is authorized to provide independent, nonpartisan investigations into the House’s operations, but over the years that office’s findings have become largely shrouded from public view. In what ways has it become less transparent? How many reports does the office issue and what do they cover?

We looked at all the public records we could find since the IG’s office was created in 1992.

Our findings:

  • Initially, many of the House Inspector General’s reports were made publicly available on its website, but now there is very little public information concerning the office’s work.
  • While most federal Inspectors General have increased transparency concerning their findings, transparency concerning the House IG has decreased.
  • Information about the work of the House Inspector General has been inconsistently made available to the public; we created our own inventory of House IG reports pieced together from publicly available information.

Continue reading “The House Office of Inspector General Should Publish Information About Its Reports”