Will the House’s Operations Budget Be Squeezed by Appropriators?

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Written by Policy Fellow Matt Rumsey

The House of Representatives’  internal operations budget was the subject of a Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing this morning. In the last two years, the House’s budget was decreased by 10% from its FY2010 level, and it may be set for a further reduction.

Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, made clear in his opening statement that he expected the eventual budget allocation to be lower for FY 2013 than in previous years. Mike Honda (D-CA), the subcommittee’s ranking member, called cuts to the House budget “misguided” and questioned the effect they would have on staff compensation, office operations, and the legislative process. The effect of budget cuts on Congress’s ability to do its job was the subject of a 2010 Sunlight Foundation report.

A number of department heads submitted testimony for the hearing. Of particular interest were statements by the Clerk of the House and the Office of Law Revision Counsel that discussed ongoing transparency measures, many of which are crucial for how the public learns about the House’s operations.

Karen Haas, Clerk of the House of Representatives, highlighted the Clerk’s transparency efforts in her opening statement and written testimony. The Clerk’s proposed budget, a 14% decrease from FY 2012, includes funding to continue “deploying new technology as part of a continuing effort to improve the efficiency and transparency of House floor proceedings.” Haas touted the launch of docs.house.gov, improvements to HouseLive.gov, and an upgraded interface to track House floor activities on the Clerk’s website as successful initiatives. We agree.

The Clerk’s transparency plans for FY 2013 include the addition of committee documents to docs.house.gov, improved video streaming services, and an update to the Legislative Information Management System that will complete its modernization. We welcome the further improvements to docs.house.gov, and hope that along with an improved LIS will be better access to legislative information. The Clerk’s office is also working with the Senate to develop a web-based filing system for lobbying disclosure information, an improvement which is long overdue.

Haas also cited CBO estimates that the electronic filing and disclosure system mandated by the recently passed STOCK Act would cost $4 million to implement and $1 million every year to manage. This cost was not factored in to the Clerk’s budget request. Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-OH) expressed disdain for the legislation and concern over the cost. To be effective, the STOCK Act must be fully funded and enforced.

Ralph Seep, the Law Revision Counsel of the House of Representatives, submitted a budget request equal to his offices’ FY2012 appropriation. His statement highlighted recent upgrades to the US Code’s online presence and stressed efforts to update the code in a more efficient manner. The FY 2013 request would make it possible for LRC to continue converting to an XML based production system and maintain and make further upgrades to their website. We agree that these improvements are important, as the public deserves timely access to laws as they are codified. More on LRC here.

It is also worth noting that this hearing was not webcast.

Additional Resources:

  • Statement of the House Sergeant-At-Arms Paul Irving
  • Statement of Chief Administrator Officer Daniel Strodel
  • Statement of Kerry Kircher, General Counsel
  • Statement of Inspector General Theresa Grafenstine

Image credit to RambergMediaImages.

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