Demand Progress Education Fund, Freedom of Press Foundation Lead 43 Organizations Calling on House to Let C-SPAN Control Cameras on the House Floor

Demand Progress Education Fund and Freedom of the Press Foundation led a broad coalition of press freedom organizations, government accountability and civil liberties organizations, and media outlets in urging House leadership to let C-SPAN have independent control of cameras that broadcast and stream House floor proceedings. 

The group sent a letter today to Speaker McCarthy and Democratic Leader Jeffries endorsed by organizations spanning the ideological spectrum.

“When C-SPAN is able to call its own shots, the American public benefits by getting an authentic and transparent view of how Congress functions and the mood of the chamber,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund. “We can see what really happens on the House floor, such as unexpected bipartisan negotiations like when Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Gosar had a one-on-one conversation during the Speaker vote-a-rama.”

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Appointments of Legislative Branch Office and Agency Heads

Written by Taylor J. Swift

There are over 30 support offices and agencies within the Legislative branch, including the Government Accountability Office, the Architect of the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the United States Capitol Police, and more. How are agency heads chosen and how are they removed?

The answer is not always clear. At times, the legislation or resolutions establishing an office do not specify how an officeholder may be removed. There are often informal practices for how appointments and removal work.

The Legislative branch itself does not have a standard approach. Some variation may be attributed to the roles of the offices, which may perform legislative, administrative, financial, and ceremonial functions. Other variations may arise from when an office was established, where it exists in the legislative branch, and whom it is intended to support. 

Understanding how senior officials are chosen provides insight into whether and how they may be held accountable, to whom they are responsive, and whether their structure implicates the balance of equities between the Executive and Legislative branches. 

We compiled a spreadsheet that contains details on the processes for selecting Legislative branch agency heads. It includes information on who selects office heads, the length of agency head tenures (if terms are set), reappointment or removal provisions (if any), and chamber roles in the appointment process. 

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Demand Progress and Lincoln Network Issue Bipartisan House Rules Recommendations Calling for Rebalancing Power in the 118th Congress

The progressive grassroots policy advocacy organization Demand Progress and the right-leaning technology nonprofit Lincoln Network have joined forces to urge the House of Representatives to adopt modern rules that improve congressional transparency, oversight, technology, and more. The bipartisan recommendations issued today by the two groups emphasize changes to House Rules that give more power to the rank-and-file members to shape legislation. 

The recommendations are timely, as the House Rules Committee hears today from members concerning the Rules they want adopted at the start of the 118th Congress in January. 

“There’s too much concentrated power in congressional leadership, which distorts the legislative process and stifles collaboration by members who share common interests,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “These common-sense recommendations restore balance in the House so that all members can meaningfully engage in policymaking.”

“The Rules the House enacts will shape how Congress will function and who will have power,” said Zach Graves, executive director of Lincoln Network. “It’s important to democratize the House so more rank-and-file members have a say in the legislation that gets considered and so that committees don’t have their roles usurped by leadership. All members are elected to Congress and each one has a duty and obligation to represent their constituents.”

The package of bipartisan Rules recommendations identifies improvements the House should adopt to improve transparency of legislative information, internal operations and scheduling, congressional efficiency and oversight, congressional security, congressional capacity and staff, and ethics, as well as which Rules to retain from the previous two Congresses. 

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The 118th House Rules Package Should Retain Fixes From the 116th and 117th Congresses

Written by Taylor J. Swift

The conservative House Freedom Caucus issued a 52-page guide to new GOP candidates last month on what they’ll face as freshman members, with recommendations for updating the rules for the chamber and for the party, and the conservative Lincoln Network just published their own recommendations for the rules and procedures the House should adopt at the start of the 118th Congress.

The Freedom Caucus’ guide is an excellent outline of what new members will expect and accurately summarizes the chamber’s power dynamics. It contains thoughtful recommendations for rule modernization, which is an opportunity for the incoming majority to control its flow of operations and distribute power. The Lincoln Network’s recommendations highlight a number of reforms to strengthen the people’s chamber. However, one Freedom Caucus proposal, to wipe clean the rules enacted by Democrats over the last four years, is misguided. 

The following is a partial list of the House rules and standing orders, enacted over the last four years, that we believe a Republican majority should retain should they gain power. These nonpartisan rules improve the House’s operations and support a more transparent, efficient, ethical, and accountable legislative body. For a summary of the rules adopted over the last four years, see these resources for the 116th and 117th Congresses. 

Committee Operations

Member Hearing Days: Each standing committee is required to hold a Member Day Hearing during the first session of Congress to hear testimony from any Member of the House on proposed legislation within its jurisdiction. The House Rules Committee was empowered to hold its Member day in the second session to receive testimony on proposed standing rules changes.

Amendment Availability: The 117th House Rules made amendments adopted by their committees publicly available within 24 hours by requiring all other amendments – which includes failed or withdrawn amendments – to be posted within 48 hours of their disposition or withdrawal. This requirement does not apply to amendments not offered.

Electronic Vote Availability: The 117th House Rules modernized the requirement for committees to make the results of record votes publicly available by removing the requirement that they be made available to the public for in-person inspection in committee offices. Committees will still be required to make the results of record votes publicly available electronically within 48 hours of the vote.

Electronic Filing of Reports and Electronic Signatures: 117th House Rules Subsection (l) authorizes electronic filing of committee reports, which was temporarily allowed by House Resolution 965 of the 116th, and allows electronic signatures to be used for signed views in committee reports and for select forms received by the Committee on Ethics. Reports received electronically will be processed as otherwise provided in rule XIII, and committees filing electronic reports should continue to consult with the Clerk regarding proper format and other administrative requirements.

Truth-In-Testimony Reform: The 117th House Rules amended the disclosure requirements for witnesses appearing in nongovernmental capacities by: (1) adding grants to the reporting requirement for foreign payments; (2) expanding the lookback period for reporting to 36 months; (3) requiring witnesses to disclose whether they are the fiduciary of any organization or entity with an interest in the subject matter of the hearing; and (4) requiring, to the extent practicable, the disclosures be made publicly available 24-hours prior to the witness’s appearance at a hearing. The subsection also updates the text of clause 2(g)(5) of rule XI for clarity. The House is also working to modernize its Truth-in-Testimony documents and to make the information they contain available online in a central database.

Remote Deliberations for Committees: House Committees are allowed to hold hearings and markups where some or all members participate remotely by videoconference. This allows for witnesses from all around the world to testify and for members who are not physically present to participate in the proceedings. This allows for the scheduling of proceedings when the House otherwise would not be in session; expands the times when less popular committees can hold their meetings so that members are more able to attend; and creates significantly more flexibility should an emergency arise.

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Statement on Senate Judiciary Subcmte Hearing: “Office of Legal Counsel’s Role in Shaping Executive Privilege Doctrine”

Today at 2 PM ET, the Senate Judiciary subcommittee is holding a hearing entitled “The Office of Legal Counsel’s Role in Shaping Executive Privilege Doctrine” with OLC’s Assistant Attorney General Christopher Schroeder as the sole witness. 

Given that secrecy is an all-too-common aspect of the OLC’s work, and that its secrecy has at times undermined the rule of law and the operations of that office, we will be watching for any insights about how the subcmte would promote disclosure of OLC opinions as an antidote. Congress should act now to lock-in transparency of OLC opinions

This position in favor of transparency was embraced by AAG Schroeder before he was appointed and confirmed to his current role, as well as by a number of attorneys who formerly worked in the Office of Legal Counsel. They have pointed to abuses of the OLC process by that office’s issuing opinions that “arguably distort the separation of powers by brooking no recognition for Congress’s prerogatives as a co-equal branch, in high-visibility disputes with Congress over politically charged legal questions.”

Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund, said: “OLC is a major mechanism by which Congress’s powers are diluted, limited, and ignored. Its opinions should be proactively disclosed to protect our democracy and the rule of law. There is no reason for Congress to wait to move on any of the three off-the-shelf ready-to-go OLC transparency reforms that have bipartisan coalition support.”  

Those reforms include: 

  1. authorizing legislation (Demanding Oversight and Justification Over Legal Conclusions Transparency Act or the DOJ OLC Transparency Act, S. 3858, and its companion House bill, the SUNLIGHT Act of 2022, H.R. 7619.
  2. the Duckworth amendment to the FY2023 NDAA (S.Amdt. 6246 to H.R. 7900);
  3. the directive in the appropriations committee report (H. Rept. 117-395, p. 59) accompanying the House’s FY 2023 appropriations bill for the DOJ.

And of course, Schroeder could proactively update the OLC’s “Best Practices” memorandum to instate proactive disclosure of OLC opinions without waiting for Congressional direction. Let’s not forget that in 2004, he was one of 18 former senior DOJ officials who signed a document entitled Principles to Guide the Office of Legal Counsel that specifically said: “OLC should publicly disclose its written legal opinions in a timely manner, absent strong reasons for delay or nondisclosure.”

Also, don’t miss the American Constitution Society’s Statement on OLC opinions, to which many former OLC attorneys contributed, that identifies many problems with OLC’s non-transparency practices — including harm to the office itself — and recommends “the Office should demonstrate its commitment to ensuring executive branch accountability through transparency by articulating a strong presumption in favor of publishing its final formal opinions.”

When Schroeder was a nominee in 2021, Demand Progress led a bipartisan coalition including Americans for Prosperity, the National Taxpayers Union, and the Federation of American Scientists that called for the OLC to adopt a policy of proactively disclosing OLC opinions. We’ve also testified to the Senate requesting OLC transparency language be included in the CJS Approps subcommittee bill — such language was included in the House; and the pending Duckworth-Leahy DOJ OLC Transparency Act.

Today’s hearing is described as focusing on the Executive branch’s views on the executive privilege doctrine, and is reportedly a follow-up to the previous executive privilege hearing in August 2021, during which several witnesses pointed to the OLC as the primary driver of executive privilege doctrine in the Executive branch and identified OLC as partly responsible for the increasingly aggressive legal positions the Executive branch has taken to thwart Congressional oversight in recent years.

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

First Branch Forecast logo

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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