In Praise of Standardized Data for Congressional Oversight

Alex Pollock, distinguished senior fellow at the R Street Institute, spoke of the value of standardized financial data on federal government activities. He observed to attendees of the Financial Data Summit, that reports are useful certainly, but...

"[W]hy not have multiple interpretative perspectives on the same data, instead of only one?  This is a fine example of the difference between one perspective—GAAP—and other possibly insightful perspectives on the same financial object.  Why not have as many perspectives readily available as prove to be useful?

"We are meeting today in Washington, DC, a city full of equestrian statues of winning Civil War generals.  (The losing side is naturally not represented.)  Think, for example, of the statues of General Grant or Sheridan or Sherman or Logan—all astride their steeds.  Perhaps you can picture these heroic statues in imagination.

"I like to ask people to consider this question:  What is the true view of a statue?  Is it the one from the front, the top, the side (which side?), or what?  Every view is a true view, but each is partial.  Even the view of such an equestrian statue directly from behind—featuring the horse’s derriere—is one true view among others.  It is not the most attractive one, perhaps, but it may make you think of some people you know.

"Likewise, what is the true view of a company, a bank, a government agency, a regulated activity, or a customer relationship?  Every document is one view."

Read more at https://www.datacoalition.org/alex-pollock-data-transparency-and-multiple-perspectives/

 

Video of Meeting On: Does Congress Have the Capacity It Needs In Foreign Affairs?

Katherine Kidder (Center for a New American Security), Kurt Couchman (Defense Priorities), and Kevin R. Kosar (R Street Institute).

The Constitution assigns Congress the power to declare war, fund the military, approve treaties and regulate commerce with other nations. Yet, over the past century presidents have taken the leading role in foreign affairs. Today, the president heads an expanding executive branch security apparatus---one which has found itself mired in controversy many times.

This video carries the presentations given at the April 12, 2017 gathering of the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group. (The video concludes before the start of the question and answer session with attendees.) The featured speakers were Katherine Kidder (Center for a New American Security), Kurt Couchman (Defense Priorities), and Kevin R. Kosar (R Street Institute).

Is the Legislative Filibuster in Danger?

According to Roll Call's David Hawkings, no. He writes:

"Even as he was setting the launch codes for neutralizing the power to filibuster potential Supreme Court justices, the only nomination still subject to supermajority scrutiny, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was vowing unilateral disarmament on the other half of the Senate’s agenda. So long as the Republicans are in charge and he’s in charge of the Republicans, he promised on Tuesday, there will be no change whatsoever to the legislative filibuster.  

"'Who would be the biggest beneficiary of that right now? It would be the majority, right?' the Kentuckian told reporters. 'There’s not a single senator in the majority who thinks we ought to change the legislative filibuster. Not one.'

"His categorical promise — 'Correct,' he replied when asked, 'Are you committing that under your leadership you will never remove the legislative filibuster?' — is good through the end of 2018 at a minimum, and at least two years beyond. That’s assuming the GOP makes good on its currently strong position for retaining Senate control in the midterm election. (By the start of 2020, when McConnell will turn 78 and be in his sixth year as floor leader, he will presumably have decided whether to seek a seventh term.)"

Read more at: http://www.rollcall.com/news/hawkings/mitch-mcconnell-legislative-filibuster

Podcast with Michael Golden Regarding Congressional Reform

Image source: http://michaelgolden.me/podcast/

Image source: http://michaelgolden.me/podcast/

Understandably, politics, policy (military, health, etc.), and re-election tend to swamp the minds of those who serve on Capitol Hill. What tends to get crowded out is thinking about Congress as an institution.

One of the objects of the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group is to encourage more people both on the Hill and across the nation to care about Congress as an institution. It is the most democratic of our three branches of government, and the heart of our constitutional system. 

So it was with great pleasure that Kevin Kosar spoke with Michael Golden on his podcast program about the importance of Congress and its struggles in the 21st century. Golden is the author of the book Unlock Congress, and is a senior fellow at the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy.

You can listen to their discussion here or on iTunes.

How Many Types of Appropriations Are There?

Illustration credit: Anthony McCann, "Forms of Appropriation: A Typology," Public Budgeting and Finance, June 2016.

Illustration credit: Anthony McCann, "Forms of Appropriation: A Typology," Public Budgeting and Finance, June 2016.

According to Anthony McCann, there are 13 types. This is a big deal because, he explains, 

"The choice of appropriations form has two significant impacts. First, it can create very real problem in budget execution. Second, many of these forms move away from the traditional fixed annual appropriation by which Congress has historically implemented the “power of the purse.” As such they subtly change the balance between the executive and legislative branches and markedly reduce Congress’ ability to control spending."

Tony's "Forms of Appropriation: A Typology," appeared in Public Budgeting and Finance and is at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/pbaf.12096/abstract (pay wall). Congressional staff likely can acquire a copy via request to the Library of Congress or Congressional Research Service. 

McCann, by the way, formerly served as Clerk and Staff Director of the subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, and has extensive public finance experience. Presently he lectures at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy. 

Prof. Josh Chafetz: The Filibuster Was Already Dead before the Senate Went Nuclear

Cornell Law School Professor Josh Chafetz writes in the Washington Post:

"[T]he truth is, there’s less to the theatrics than meets the eye. The filibuster for Supreme Court nominees was already dead — it just hadn’t stopped moving quite yet. Before Democrats vowed to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination, they almost certainly knew that using the tactic would mean its elimination. And this may not be the last nuclear option detonated, either: The history of Congress shows that once parliamentary tools become big enough obstacles for the majority party, they are abolished or reformed. If Senate Democrats stymie Republicans enough over the next few years, the legislative filibuster could soon be gone, too...."

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/04/06/the-filibuster-was-already-doomed-before-the-nuclear-option-vote/

Majority Leader McConnell On the Decision to Go Nuclear

In the Washington Post, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote:

The day after Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court was announced, I wrote about his sterling credentials, record of independence and long history of bipartisan support — and predicted they would matter little to hard-left special interests that invariably oppose the Supreme Court nominees of any Republican president. I asked Democrats to ignore those extreme voices....

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/sen-mitch-mcconnell-democrats-reap-what-they-have-sown/2017/04/07/5696eb76-1bd4-11e7-bcc2-7d1a0973e7b2_story.html?utm_term=.6d064417a0ab

When Presidents Try to Primary Congressmen

Source: http://www.todayingeorgiahistory.org/content/fdrs-controversial-speech-barnesville

Source: http://www.todayingeorgiahistory.org/content/fdrs-controversial-speech-barnesville

by Rob Oldham

In Barnesville, Georgia in August 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, recently elected to his second term in 1936, shared a stage with Senator Walter George, the third-term Democratic senator from Georgia. Despite being from the same party, it was no secret that Roosevelt and George had differences. The focus of the Roosevelt presidency was on bringing the United States out of the Great Depression, the economic crisis that began in 1929 and left 11 million Americans without jobs. George and other southern Democrats had been resistant to Roosevelt's attempts to use federal programs to jumpstart the economy and put people back to work. Southern Democrats had battled with Roosevelt on legislation that would have established a national minimum wage, capped the number of hours laborers could work, and expanded low-income housing.

With the 1938 midterm elections coming up, Roosevelt was set to speak at Gordon Institute Stadium in Barnesville, where over 50,000 spectators had come to watch him. Roosevelt was supposed to be ceremonially flipping a switch that would provide power for families in rural areas. Instead, he talked about the upcoming Democratic primary race between George and his challenger, U.S. Attorney Lawrence Camp. In what has been called “one of the most unusual and dramatic moments in American political history,” Roosevelt said that he and George did not “speak the same language” on public questions and announced his support for the more liberal Camp.

The magnitude of this moment should not be understated. A sitting president was actively involving himself in a partisan rift (something that had traditionally been beneath the role of the office) and attempting to remake the party in his own image. By creating a direct link to public opinion through his public speeches and “fireside chats,” Roosevelt was, for the first time, asking the members of the public to put their confidence in the presidential agenda rather than the decentralized parties that had controlled Congress up to this point.

In 2017, that looks something like this:

That is what President Trump tweeted in response to the no-vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Although the Freedom Caucus was not the only group of Republicans that did not support AHCA, their disagreement received the most public attention and forced Trump into unsuccessful last-minute negotiations with them. Trump’s tweet suggests that he might support primary challenges to the Freedom Caucus in the 2018 midterms, most likely by Republicans who would become Trump loyalists.

Comparing Trump’s tweet to Roosevelt’s battle with the southern Democrats shows some differences. The Freedom Caucus is generally aligned with the conservative-leaning policies that President Trump ran on in 2016, while Roosevelt and the southern Democrats were polar opposites. Roosevelt was a little ahead of his time in wishing for ideologically sorted parties, where Democrats would be liberal and Republicans would be conservative. That ideological sorting did not really happen until the 1970s through the 1990s, when most southern Democrats were finally replaced by Republicans and progressive Republicans became Democrats. Primarying members of the Freedom Caucus would not result in more ideological sorting, but rather a more unified and loyal Republican rank-and-file that would be more deferential to Trump and other GOP leaders.

If one defines successful congressional reform as increasing Congress’s ability to pass major pieces of legislation, then the Trump strategy makes a certain amount of sense. Here is a chart from FiveThirtyEight that shows wide ideological differences among House Republicans as well as disparities between those that work with party leaders and those that do not.

Illustration credit: 538.com

Illustration credit: 538.com

Assuming that reelection matters more than anything else to members of Congress, including the unusually principled Freedom Caucus, the Trump strategy of calling out disloyal members by name (which he did here) might force Republicans to adjust their positions to be more in line with President Trump or risk being on the losing side of a congressional primary. Trump won the Republican primary vote in 20 of the 32 Freedom Caucus districts (although some of these primaries occurred when Trump was the only remaining candidate) and he remains very popular among Republican voters with an 86 percent approval rating. Moreover, Freedom Caucus members are not invulnerable to primary challenges. In 2016, Freedom-Caucus-aligned Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) was defeated by pro-business challenger Roger Marshall, who had the support of establishment GOP groups. Marshall’s primary campaign could be a model for 2018 challenges headed by Trump.

However, it would be a tall order for President Trump to score enough successful primary challenges to prevent the Freedom Caucus from blocking his agenda again. There are 237 Republicans in the House currently, 32 of whom are Freedom Caucus members. In order to have 218 non-Freedom Caucus Republicans, Trump would have to defeat (or badly scare) 13 Freedom Caucus members in the 2018 primaries. The last time there were this many successful primary challenges was 1992, where many incumbents were implicated in the House Banking Scandal or had their districts shifted after the 1990 census.

Furthermore, it is unclear that Republicans have an appetite for a centralization of power around President Trump and his agenda. Quite simply, American elections are local in nature and rarely decided by national trends. Roosevelt learned this the hard way in 1938. The president was unsuccessful in defeating the rebellious southern Democrats, despite having won 62 percent of the national popular vote and every state except Maine and Vermont in the 1936 election. In fact, he was unable to beat George or any of the southerners he targeted. His only success was against Rules Committee Chairman John O’Connor (D-NY), who had been instrumental in preventing Roosevelt’s bills from reaching the House floor.

But just because Roosevelt failed does not mean that Trump will too. Even though he had assembled a “elimination committee” to target New Deal opponents, liberals criticized Roosevelt’s focus on the south. They thought he put too much emphasis on areas where race relations dominated the public discourse rather than economic issues. If he would have targeted more northern conservatives like John O’Connor, he might have been able to weaken intraparty resistance among Democrats.

Trump could learn from where Roosevelt failed and go after the Freedom Caucus districts where his vote margin exceeded or was close to theirs (FiveThirtyEight identified 14 districts where the margin was +/-5 percent or better). But, even if he is able to target vulnerable Freedom Caucus members efficiently, Trump still faces steep obstacles in selling his brand of Republicanism to their districts, which, as recent research shows, favor ideological purity over the pragmatic deal-making that he has made his central selling point. Furthermore, the incumbency advantage is strong among members of Congress, with usually about 90 percent of those who run winning reelection.

Roosevelt used his personal popularity to assemble a unique electoral coalition of organized labor, urban blacks, and female voters behind his New Deal platform. However, southern Democrats were a necessary part of his coalition, especially if he wanted to maintain a national, as opposed to a regional, appeal. Trump also displayed some ability to bring in unlikely Republican voters, namely the 206 counties of mainly white, working-class voters that flipped from Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 to Trump in 2016. Like Roosevelt, he may find it difficult to reconcile the desires of his personal electoral coalition with the traditional party base. This could possibly lead to the formation of cross-party coalitions where moderate Democrats (perhaps those from districts Trump won) and Republicans work with Trump to bypass the Freedom Caucus.

But if Trump both fails to win over Freedom Caucus districts and corral moderate Democrats (which seems likely with his low approval rating numbers among the Democratic base), the last two years of his presidency might be difficult. The surviving members of the Freedom Caucus are unlikely to appreciate a personal challenge from the president in 2018 and Democrats would probably be better off betting on a 2020 victory than cooperating with a president that they loathe. If this scenario becomes reality, expect even more congressional gridlock in the waning days of the Trump presidency, with most major policy overhauls coming via executive action rather than from the legislative branch.

As of now, the Freedom Caucus is not worried about threats from Trump. They believe that they have a better feel for what their districts want than the president and that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for another Republican to outflank them on the right. This tweet from conservative stalwart and one of the Freedom Caucus’s founding members, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), may sum up what the group thinks about Trump’s threats:

Trump is Tweeting Threats at the Freedom Caucus. Good Luck with That

Illustration credit: Andrew J. Clarke, Washington Post Monkey Cage.

Illustration credit: Andrew J. Clarke, Washington Post Monkey Cage.

Andrew J. Clarke writes:

"Following the Republican failure to repeal and replace Obamacare last week, President Trump took aim at the House Freedom Caucus. He has called the group an obstacle to conservative goals and even called for Republican primary challenges against them in the next elections.

"His threats are unlikely to work. Here’s why.

"Most members represent solidly conservative districts, and few faced a tough primary challenger in 2016. The figure [above] plots the ideological positions of House Republicans in the past Congress. As you can see, the Freedom Caucus is clearly the right wing of the party, which puts them in a good position to survive a contested primary....."

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/04/05/trump-is-tweeting-threats-at-the-freedom-caucus-good-luck-with-that/

What Members of Congress Think Is Wrong With Congress

PS journal 04-2017.png

By John Lincoln

For those who feel Congress is in need of some modicum of reform, we should read carefully the words of those who experience first-hand the problems found within the institution: Members themselves. The July 2016 issue of PS: Political Science and Politics (pay wall) affords readers such an opportunity.

Within the issue, three Democrat Representatives and one Republican Senator provide essays that speak to the problems they see within the institution, as well as their insights for their effects and potential fixes. The essays are:

In order to get a sense of the agreements and disagreements on the problems, causes, effects, and reform proposals written by the Members, the visual below aggregates the observations written in the essays. A checkmark indicates that that respective Member explicitly commented on the specific topic. Bolded, green items highlight the issues that all four Members agree on. Red checkmarks designate items where there is not a universal consensus. (See below.)

Several observations are noteworthy. Across chambers and across party lines, all four Members agree that two related fundamental problems of the current state of Congress are that Congress has grown weaker and that the president has filled the power vacuum. Second, the one cause all Members agree has led to a weakened Congress is polarization, both within the chamber and within the electorate. Third, all Members concur that this polarization has led to power has being centralized by party leaders within Congress and that the executive branch has taken advantage of legislative gridlock in Congress by taking a more active role in legislating. Finally, and notably, there was very little, if any, overlap in the Members’ prescriptions for their respective concerns. 

These are vast simplifications of the thoughtful pieces written by congressional veterans. Take the time to read their words in their entirety as well as the essay authored by Professors Michael Crespin and Anthony Madonna that delves into the various observations made by the Members in much greater detail and from a political science perspective.

(Congressional staff and legislators can get copies of these essays through the Congressional Research Service and Library of Congress.)

Table 1. Legislators' Assessments of Congress: Agreement and Disagreement

Proposed: An Office of Evaluation Within the GAO... And Evidence-based Policy

Moynihan Crisis of Confidence 04-2017.png

Fifty years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in the Public Interest of a "crisis of confidence." In short, the federal government had for decades spent funds to improve America's cities. Yet, what Americans saw on the evening news were reports of crime, riots, and general decay. Was anything the government was doing actually helping? And why did elected officials and executive branch officials speak glowingly of these urban programs?

To redress the cynicism about government policy and to ensure the public's funds were being spent wisely, Moynihan proposed giving the legislative branch more experts who would objectively assess the effectiveness of programs:

"I would like to suggest that Congress should now establish an Office of Legislative Evaluation in the GAO which would have the task of systematically reviewing the program evaluations and "PPBS" judgments made by executive departments. This office would be staffed by professional social scientists.... It should not be expected that their findings will be dramatic or that they will put an end to argument - just the contrary is likely to occur. But the long-run effect could be immensely useful, if only because Congress would have some clearer idea than it now has as to what it is doing..."

The past often proves a prologue.

Evidence-based policy-making has been moving forward in fits and starts on Capitol Hill. Prof. Andrew Reamer of George Washington University has been much involved in this effort, and his recent testimony before the Commission on Evidence-based Policymaking is worth reading. (The Commission may be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CEPgovNews)

(Hat tip to Brookings' Philip Wallach for slipping this Moynihan essay to LegBranch.com.)

Will Congress Finally Reassert Its War Powers?

Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.

At the American Conservative, Daniel R. Depeteris writes: 

"An increasing number of lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, are finally beginning to come to grips with this embarrassing situation. Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Barbara Lee (D-Texas), two legislators who have consistently reminded their colleagues that the legislative branch is becoming exceedingly irrelevant during wartime, are no longer making their case alone. The 115th Congress, although only a few months old, is becoming far more activist on the subject of war powers than previous Congresses—a development that constitutional scholars, the men and women of our armed forces, and the American people in general, should all cheer.

"As of last week, there have been five war-powers resolutions and bills introduced into the Congressional Record. Some, such as an AUMF proposal put forth by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) are open-ended and provide the president with a tremendous amount of authority to use military force against terrorist groups regardless of national borders or time constraints. Representative Lee’s attempt to insert Congress into the war-making process includes a prohibition on funds for the deployment of U.S. ground-combat forces into Syria unless Congress authorizes such a mission in the first place...."

Read more at http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/will-congress-finally-reassert-its-war-powers/

How Unusual: The House Twice Had Highly Divided Votes Over… Approving Its Journal

On Thursday and Friday of last week (March 23rd & 24th), the House of Representatives twice divided sharply over whether to approve its Journal. This was unusual. The Journal of the House of Representatives is a constitutionally mandated record of the proceedings of the House. It notes the who did what, when, and how of the lower chamber’s floor action. (It does not record congressional debates, like the Congressional Record.)

Thursday the Journal was approved by a thin margin of 202 to 197. Friday the vote was 218 to 201. Adding to the peculiarity was that the parties did not break along party lines. (Table 1 and Table 2)

Source: Congress.gov

Source: Congress.gov

Source: Congress.gov

Source: Congress.gov

What was going on?

To answer that question first requires reviewing a little background on voting on the Journal, and then considering the legislative context for last week’s Journal votes.

Background on voting on the Journal

Until 1971, the Journal was required to be read at the beginning of each legislative day unless waived by either unanimous consent or suspension of the rules.  However, since the passage of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, however, the Speaker has had the authority to announce his or her approval of the Journal in lieu of it being read (House Rule I).

However, any Member can demand that the approval be subjected to a vote.  If the Speaker’s approval is upheld, then business proceeds.  If, however, it is rejected, then a motion to have the Journal read is privileged.  Success of such a motion would lead to the Journal being read and possibly amended.

Under clause 8 of Rule XX, the Speaker can delay this vote until time later in the legislative day (as he or she can do with many other types of roll call votes).  This ability to defer the vote until later in the day has led to the vote on the Speaker’s approval of the Journal being used, from time to time, as an opportunity to reserve a time to ensure that a sufficient number of appropriately-minded members are in attendance. 

Given the Speaker’s power to keep the vote open, recording a vote on the Journal schedules a period at the beginning of a day’s roll call voting during which members will come to the floor of the House. Due to the electoral importance of maintaining a high attendance level at roll call votes, any roll call vote--including on approval of the Journal---brings members to the floor, facilitating the two parties’ leaderships’ efforts to count heads, poll the rank and file, and cajole recalcitrant members.

In this 2010 article (ungated working paper version), I explored the characteristics of voting on the Journal in the 102nd-107th Congresses. At least during those 12 years, I found that

1.     Votes on the Journal were just as frequently requested by the majority party as by members of the minority party (belying a simple understanding of this vote as a dilatory/obstructionist tactic), and

2.     Predicted that roll call votes later that day

a.     were more likely to be close; and

b.     more likely to be party-line votes than those recorded on other days.

I haven’t updated the analysis to include the ensuing seven Congresses. I wish I had the time, and am more than happy to help anyone willing to dig into it (and I have several ideas about other directions to go with it: for example, preliminary analysis of the data I did have indicated ---perhaps unsurprisingly--- that majority members who voted nay on a Journal vote correlated with defections from the party on other votes taken that day). 

Context of last week’s Journal votes

This past week, Speaker Paul Ryan was frantically trying to cobble together enough votes to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA).  During this time, the House recorded seven roll call votes. 

On Thursday morning, the first two of these seven votes waived clause 6(a) of rule XIII---which requires a two-thirds vote to consider a special rule on the same day it is reported---until Monday, March 27th (text here). Granted by a party line vote (notably with 4 GOP defections), this waiver set the stage for an immediate consideration of whatever special rule the GOP leadership decided to use to consider the AHCA (see the report and the rejected minority amendment).  Immediately following this at 11:11am, the House voted “on approving the Journal.” The final tally, as noted above, was a squeaker, with legion Republicans voting against approval. The House recorded no more votes on Thursday, with Ryan ultimately deciding to postpone voting on the AHCA due to a lack of support within the GOP caucus

The next day, after President Trump demanded a vote, the House moved again to take a vote on ACHA. Greg Koger provided a great contemporaneous write-up of how the day was “supposed” to play out. Here’s how it did:

The leadership started the day by bringing a “self-executing” rule to the floor (H.Res. 228).  Two roll call votes (on the previous question and on the rule itself) were recorded at about 11am.  The first passed on a straight party-line vote.  The second passed with 6 GOP defections and zero Democrats in support.

After this, the House quickly and unanimously passed a minor amendment of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 regarding DHS acquisition practices. Six minutes later, the House recorded another roll call on approving the Journal. This vote was less close than Thursday’s Journal vote (218 yeas, 201 nays), but again had many Republicans in opposition. This was the final vote before Speaker Ryan headed to the White House to inform Donald Trump that they did not simply have the votes to pass the AHCA.

Thus, taken as a whole, the two roll call votes on the Journal likely reflect the high drama that we saw in the news those two days. These votes were not about the Journal itself; they probably were a signal to leadership ---particularly among Republicans--- that members did not want to vote on the AHCA. Their nay votes gave the Speaker the read that he needed. Which is why he delayed and withheld the vote on AHCA.

John W. Patty is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and co-editor of the Journal of Theoretical Politics. He is the coauthor of Learning While Governing (University of Chicago Press, 2012) with Sean Gailmard and Social Choice and Legitimacy: The Possibilities of Impossibility (Cambridge University Press, 2014) with Elizabeth Maggie Penn.

Data Coalition Testifies on Forthcoming OPEN Government Data Act

Photo credit: Data Coalition.

Photo credit: Data Coalition.

Hudson Hollister, Executive Director of the Data Coalition, testified before Congress this week regarding new legislation.

"The DATA Act of 2014, which Ranking Member Cummings, then-Chairman Issa, and
this Committee championed, makes open data the default for federal spending
information. But the DATA Act is limited to spending. It is time for Congress to affirm
that not just spending, but all federal information, everything that is legally public, should
be freely available and electronically searchable. Representatives Farenthold and Kilmer are introducing the OPEN Government Data Act to take that next step. The OPEN Government Data Act provides that all government information, unless it is legally restricted, should be published online, using machine-readable data formats...."

More open data empowers more oversight. (See here.)

Read his written testimony at https://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Hollister-DC-Statement-Legislative-Proposals-for-Transparency-3-23.pdf

Watch the hearing of the House Oversight and Government reform Committee at https://oversight.house.gov/hearing/legislative-proposals-fostering-transparency/

Upcoming Events on Congress and Technology

From the Congressional Data Coalition:

"#HouseOfCode
Clear your schedule Tuesday, April 4th, from 4:30-7:30 to celebrate the accomplishments of 123 Members of Congress who participated in the 2016 Congressional App Challenge. Located at the Rayburn House Office Building, this reception and demo day will feature remarks from Reps. Goodlatte, Eshoo, Royce, and Moulton....

"Bulk Data Task Force
Keep April 6th open, from 1:00-2:30, for the next meeting of the congressional Bulk Data Task Force. This legislative-branch wide working group is moving Congress into the future. More information to come....

Read more and RSVP at http://congressionaldata.org/upcoming-tech-and-congress-events/

 

A Congressional Staffer Makes a Case for the First Branch

Eric Harris, communications director for Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis), took to Sunday's Washington Post "Outlook" page. He writes:

"As a communications director for Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), answering constituent calls is not usually in my job description; in most offices on Capitol Hill, staff assistants and interns pick up. But with phones ringing off the hook since Donald Trump became the 45th president, the policy experts and I have been pitching in — and all of us have been on the receiving end of a nonstop barrage of indignation and frustration from constituents, many of whom have never been in touch before. So I have something to say to the hordes of furious callers who continue to bombard our office on a daily basis: Thank you."

If ever the case was made for the First Branch's centrality to our Democratic Republic.... Can one imagine the judiciary fielding tons of calls? The executive branch taking note of individuals' fears, concerns, and complaints---and trying to find ways to help?

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/03/16/this-is-what-its-like-answering-all-those-phone-calls-to-congress/

Zach Wamp, Former Congressman, on the Fundraising Problem

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Conservative Zach Wamp (R-TN, 1995-2011) writes:

"The ugliest truth is that our 'representatives' of the people spend as much as half their time raising money. Members of Congress owe the politically-affiliated party committees (the National Republican Senatorial and Congressional Campaign Committees and their counterparts, the Democratic Senatorial and Congressional Campaign Committees) hundreds of thousands of dollars in “dues” each month, raised to protect incumbents and consolidate party power.

"Their elections each cycle often cost $1.5 million or more in the House, and $10 million in the Senate, so lawmakers are constantly fundraising. If you chair a committee or serve in leadership, you’re building an even larger war chest.

"For example, while I was writing this piece, I received a call from a sitting lawmaker, asking for a donation toward the $325,000 dollars he’s obligated to pay the NRCC every year. When I told him I was writing about that very issue and working to end the pressure to raise ridiculous sums of money — a fiscal 'arms race' — he told me he hoped I was successful because he’s tired of it. Case in point!"

Read more at https://www.issueone.org/congress-still-fundraising-voters-tired/