Time Running Out on Panel Created to Improve How Congress Works

  • Chair wants to ‘make change,’ not just propose changes
  • Work could continue beyond 2022, even if panel folded

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Lawmakers on a temporary panel to improve Congress’ functionality are rushing to ensure the recommendations they’ve offered over the past three years are implemented before time is up.

Members of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress are crafting a resolution that would implement some 30 recommendations the panel has already approved. Likely to be introduced in the next few weeks, the resolution includes proposals supporting the expansion of tuition assistance and professional development opportunities for staffers, hold bipartisan retreats for members, and ensure congressional websites and buildings can be easily accessed by those with disabilities.

Speaking alongside the committee’s GOP vice chair at an event with Bloomberg Government, Chair Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) said the committee, which may not return in the next Congress, is “sprinting toward the finish line.”

“We don’t just want to make recommendations, we want to make change,” Kilmer said. “A lot of our focus here this year is going to be getting some of those reforms actually implemented so we can have a Congress that works better for the American people.”

The panel, equally split between Republicans and Democrats, has no legislative jurisdiction and limited power to achieve its goals. So Kilmer and Vice Chair William Timmons (R-S.C.) have had to rely on other committees, agencies, and leadership to act on their recommendations to bolster the chamber’s efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency.

Two-thirds of the committee must approve recommendations, but to be implemented some must be adopted in the form of a resolution by the full House. Others could be implemented at the start of the 118th Congress when the chamber usually adopts a new package of rules.

Of the 97 recommendations approved in the 116th Congress, 27 were fully implemented and another 15 are close, according to an updated tally from the committee. There were also 45 recommendations approved in 2021, and the committee could vote on more this year before the end of the 117th Congress.

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The House modernization panel is rushing to finish its work before the end of the 117th Congress.

Implementation Hurdles

Money is one hurdle to implementing the recommendations the House adopted, though it could be eased if Congress passes a $2 million program to carry out the panel’s recommendations. The House passed the funding in July as part of the fiscal year 2022 spending bill for the legislative branch (H.R. 4346) , but a final spending bill has yet to be agreed to by both chambers.

Another issue is technology. For instance, a recommendation to create a common calendar for committee hearings that would help avoid overlap and allow members to have better attendance stalled because of the software used by the House Clerk. “Breaking that system would be expensive,” Timmons said.

And then there’s capacity and deciding which recommendations to prioritize. During a January hearing, House Clerk Cheryl Johnson told lawmakers, “We only have one project team, and we have multiple projects.”

Into the Future

The committee, created when Democrats took control of the House in January 2019, has received two extensions beyond its original expiration date of February 2020. It’s unclear if another extension will be granted with control of the chamber up for grabs in the midterm elections.

Timmons said he’s spoken with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about the committee’s future, including it potentially becoming a subcommittee on the House Administration Committee. Deciding what’s next will depend on what the committee can do in the next 10 months, he said.

“I’m hopeful that come December, the chairman and I can look at each other and say we have gotten our work done and we can transition this to a new form,” he said.

When reached by Bloomberg Government, McCarthy and Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s (D-Calif.) offices didn’t comment on the leaders’ visions for the modernization panel after this year.

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration Committee and a member of the modernization panel, said in a statement that the “work of implementing reforms will continue beyond this Congress.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bloombergindustry.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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