Video Blackout of Hearing on Budgets for Legislative Support Agencies


This Tuesday, there will be hearing on budgets for the Library of Congress, the Government Printing Office, the Government Accountability Office, and the Congressional Budget Office. It’s too bad that the public won’t have a real opportunity to learn about these important agencies, as the meeting is not expected to be webcast by the committee, and (if I remember correctly) the hearing room is so tiny that few if any members of the public will be able to attend.

That’s too bad, especially because this is the first opportunity to hear firsthand how last year’s budget cuts have affected agencies’ abilities to do their jobs, and learn about agency and congressional priorities for the upcoming year. It’s also the first time we’ll hear from the new acting Public Printer  (the head of GPO); and perhaps the newly appointed head of the Congressional Research Service will be presented and introduced by the Librarian of Congress.

Only the House and Senate Legislative Appropriations Committees regularly hold annual public hearings on the workings of these agencies; the oversight committees (Committee on House Administration and Senate Rules) generally do not, and the Joint Committee on the Library and Joint Committee on Printing no longer holds substantive meetings in public.

The new House rules require that all committees provide “audio and video coverage of each hearing or meeting” that “allows the public to easily listen … and view the proceedings” “to the maximum extent practicable.” All of the House committees have at least one hearing room that is equipped with a camera, and the House Recording Studio will provide a camera upon a committee’s request. Unfortunately, this hearing is being held in a room without a camera, and I’ve been informed that the Committee has not requested one. The Appropriations Committee has not scheduled any other hearings for Tuesday, so the room with the pre-positioned camera should be available.

We ran into this problem last year, when the Committee’s justification for holding the meeting in the same  tiny, camera-less room (HT-2) was that it was more convenient to hold the hearing in the Capitol than in one of the legislative buildings. Even if convenience were more important than  the public access rule, the House Recording Studio could still provide a camera, and there are rooms in the newly constructed $600+ million Capitol Visitor Center (i.e. in the Capitol) that already have cameras installed. We would send a video crew ourselves, but only organizations accredited by the House Radio-Television Correspondents’ Gallery can ask permission from the Committee to record the event, and the Sunlight Foundation doesn’t qualify for membership.

Another change from last year is that members of the public are not invited to speak at the hearing, although they may submit written comments. Along with several others, I took the opportunity to speak last year, where I called for bulk access to THOMAS data and public access to CRS reports. I will submit comments for the record, but written comments are much less effective than speaking directly to the Members of Congress. It’s too bad, especially because one of the major lessons of last Thursday’s House Legislative Data and Transparency Conference  is that the Library of Congress and GPO have apparently been ignoring their legal obligation to make progress on public access to bulk data. Ironically, it was this very Committee that imposed the obligation upon them in the first place, 3 years ago.

As with everything in Congress, things could still change for Tuesday’s hearing — its time, date, location, and whether it will webcast or covered by the media. I plan on attending, and if I can make it into the room, I’ll post an update.