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Tag Archive: Legislative Branch Appropriations

Continued cuts to legislative branch budget hurt transparency, accountability, and capacity.

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photo by Flickr user Tax CreditsThis morning, the House Appropriations Committee's Legislative Branch Subcommittee marked up its FY 2014 funding bill, agreeing to a plan that would cut funding for Congress and legislative support agencies well below FY 2013 levels, and even beneath sequestration levels for most offices. Committee leadership claimed that cuts were necessary to "lead by example" and help get the government's "fiscal house in order," but, in reality, the cuts will likely limit accountability, access to information, and the ability of Congress and the legislative support agencies to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. The shrinking budgets could also make it more difficult for Congress to implement a number of important transparency initiatives. Specifically, the plan would continue several years of cuts to House operations and the Government Accountability Office that have diminished the capacity of both bodies.

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The Senate is trying to trim its budget. They can boost transparency at the same time.

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380,251. That is the number of pages contained in more than 5,000 campaign reports that the Secretary of the Senate's Office of Public Records scanned, processed, and sent to the FEC last year. That number emerged during testimony given by Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson to justify her budget request before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Legislative Branch Subcommittee this morning. Despite their frugal rhetoric, most Senators have refused to move past their costly, inefficient paper-based campaign finance filing system. As they try to find ways to trim budgets, they should eliminate the expensive, anachronistic, and opaque practice of filing their campaign finance reports on paper rather than electronically, as presidential and House candidates along with Political Action Committees have been doing for years.

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Is the GPO a Digital Printer or a Digital Publisher?

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The tension between the Government Printing Office's traditional role as a printing operation and its future as a publisher of digital government information was apparent at a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee's Legislative Branch Subcommittee last week. In her testimony, acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks stressed the GPO's efforts to transition to the digital age and acknowledged that the agency's role has evolved to that of a publishing operation. Unfortunately, the GPO has often failed to take steps that would allow it to fully embrace that role and ensure its future as an essential source of information.

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House Convenes Second Public Meeting on Legislative Bulk Data

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On January 30th, the House of Representatives held a public meeting on its efforts to release more legislative information to the public in ways that facilitate its reuse. This was the second meeting hosted by the Bulk Data Task Force where members of the public were included; it began privately meeting in September 2012. (Sunlight and others made a presentation at a meeting, in October, on providing bulk access to legislative data.) This public meeting, organized by the Clerk's office, is a welcome manifestation of the consensus of political leaders of both parties in the House that now is the time to push Congress' legislative information sharing technology into the 21st century. In other words, it's time to open up Congress. The meeting featured three presentations on ongoing initiatives, allowed for robust Q&A, and highlighted improvements expected to be rolled out of the next few months. In addition, the House recorded the presentations and has made the video available to the public. The ongoing initiatives are the release of bill text bulk data by GPO, the addition of committee information for docs.house.gov, and the release on floor summary bulk data. It's expected that these public meetings will continue at least as frequently as once per quarter, or more often when prompted by new releases of information. As part of the introductory remarks, the House's Deputy Clerk explained that a report had been generated by the Task Force at the end of the 112th Congress on bulk access to legislative data and was submitted to the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee. It's likely that the report's recommendations will become public as part of the committee's hearings on the FY 2014 Appropriations Bill, at which time the public should have an opportunity to comment.

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