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centralized access to agency congressional budget justifications, public access to OMB apportionment decisions, listing unpublished IG reports on oversight.gov, improving congressional and public access to IG reports, and a COVID-19 spending tracker.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.

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

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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Demand Progress Webinar on FY 2022 Appropriations Public Witness Testimony Set for Friday

House appropriations subcommittees will not be holding “in-person” public witness testimony (via video) this year, citing the pandemic.

Demand Progress will host a webinar this Friday where you can hear from organizations and individuals who otherwise would have testified in person on improving government transparency and accountability.

Presenters include:

  • Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute.
  • Ginger McCall, legal director for Demand Progress.
  • Nan Swift, resident fellow of the R Street Institute.
  • Brian Baird, former Member of Congress.
  • Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Progress.
  • Jamie Neikrie, coordinator for Issue One
  • Amelia Strauss, policy advisor for Demand Progress
  • Bradley Moss, deputy executive director of National Security Counselors.
  • Irvin McCullough, national security analyst for the Government Accountability Project.
  • Michael Stern, founder of Point of Order.
  • Andrew Lautz, director of federal policy for National Taxpayers Union.
  • Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors.

The webinar will take place Friday at 11 am E.T. RSVP here.

The Recap: Library of Congress Virtual Public Forum

On September 10, 2020, the Library of Congress held a Virtual Public Forum on the Library’s role in providing access to legislative information. The forum was held at the direction of the House Committee on Appropriations pursuant to its report accompanying the FY 2020 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill. Per the legislative language, there will be another forum scheduled prior to October 2021. There was widespread interest in the topic: according to the Library, several hundred people registered for the event. 

Prior to the forum, the Congressional Data Coalition and others sent a report containing more than two dozen recommendations concerning the Library of Congress’ legislative information services. They fell into five conceptual groupings: (1) Publish Information As Data; (2) Put the Legislative Process in Context; (3) Integrate Information from Multiple Sources; (4) Publish Archival Information; (5) Collaborate with the Public. 

The following provides a recap of the three-hour proceedings. The Library indicated it will post video snippets of the conversation.

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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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Capitol Police Release 2019 Complaints Data With Significant Omissions That Reduce Clarity

The U.S. Capitol Police is notoriously opaque; among the limited information they will provide to the public are summary statistics on employee misconduct, published in their Annual Statistical Summary Report. This report provides a high level summary of the number of complaints made against USCP employees.

We requested a copy of the 2019 data in June, and it arrived in August, which is par for the course with USCP. Here is what the statistics show: 

  1. There were 228 complaints filed against USCP employees in 2019, of which nearly 140 charges were sustained.
  1. More than 80% of complaints were filed by department employees; by comparison 14%  were citizen submissions, and 3% were filed by outside law enforcement.
  1. There have been zero anonymous complaints filed in 2019, and the same was true in 2018. This suggests a problem with the way the anonymous complaints process works.
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House CJS Appropriations Report Calls for Greater Transparency of Office of Legal Counsel Opinions

The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) serves as legal advisor to the president and executive branch agencies. OLC issues legal opinions and often acts as the final authority on how laws are to be interpreted. 

However, these legal opinions and how they are analyzed are often withheld from Congress and the public. In fact, the few OLC opinions that have become publicly available often reveal that they undermine federal legislation and reinterpret the Constitution to expand executive branch power. 

When opinions are kept secret, there is no way to know what opinions exist and Congress is unable to determine how the executive branch is interpreting the law, creating an imbalance of power between the branches. In sum, there’s no space for secret law, and OLC opinions can be a gateway to lawlessness.

Congress has struggled to access OLC opinions, and for years civil society has been pushing to make these reports available. However, there are avenues that Congress can take to bring much needed transparency and accountability to OLC opinions. 

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Who Steers the Ship? An Examination of House Steering and Policy Committee Membership

House Democrats and Republicans use internal party committees to control major aspects of the legislative process, including choosing who gets to serve on legislative committees. As we all know, personnel is policy.

Under the House rules, each party decides committee assignments for its members. As a result, the steering and policy committees are the scene of intraparty jockeying for power. With a large number of members competing for a relatively small number of key committee assignments and leadership roles, the parties’ respective steering committees act as a filter for who will rise and a sorting mechanism among the party’s internal factions. It is also a mechanism by which leadership taxes members to provide financial contributions in support of the party.

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