Follow Us

Tag Archive: policy

How Congress Cut its Policy Expertise

by

In the past 20 years, Congress has effectively allowed its legislative support branches to wither and stripped away its ability to process information. It has cut back its ability to review, contextualize, and evaluate information in a way that creates informed policy. Lorelei Kelly, leader of the Smart Congress pilot project at the New America Foundation, looks into this trend in a new paper: "Congress' Wicked Problem." It explores topics we have discussed in a series of posts on the House and Senate. She explains how much of the cutting to the policymaking infrastructure of Congress came in the mid-1990s. That was also the era of cutting the shared staff who had historically built knowledge and expertise around certain topics. Some members of Congress used these shared staff to their advantage, giving relatives and friends plum positions with little real work, but for the most part shared staff were a valuable asset. A rule change in 1995 cut pooled funding for staff and essentially eviscerated the caucus system. Kelly does a fantastic job of explaining in detail what impacts that cut had, showing how the knowledge gap was filled with a new top-down system of information handed out by party leaders. The paper makes an important distinction between information and knowledge in Congress. While lawmakers might receive plenty of information from lobbyists and interest groups, they have a weakened ability to seek other views and context for the flood of spin coming from K Street. Another key change Kelly notes is the elimination of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in 1995. Congress created the nonpartisan agency in 1972 to look at the impacts of technology policy decisions. After OTA was cut, there were calls for lobbyists to fill the gap. Sunlight and others called for restoring funding to OTA or some other nonpartisan source of expertise. We are glad to see someone exposing how Congress has weakened its ability to understand complex policy decisions, and we hope it will spark more discussion of what can be done to stop the cutting of knowledge.

Continue reading
Share This:

The Missing Data Behind The Plum Book

by

The latest compilation of more than 8,000 federal jobs known as the Plum Book is out, and for the first time it is available in print, digital, and mobile format. There's still something missing, though, with this list that holds interest for the public and Washington, DC, power brokers: the data behind it. Every four years, the Government Printing Office (GPO) compiles this publication of positions that "may be subject to noncompetitive appointment," as GPO puts it. The book is important because of the information it provides about who is chosen to fill presidential-appointed and other positions. In short, it is the best, most authoritative list of senior positions throughout the executive branch. It originated in the 1950's during the Eisenhower administration, when the Republican Party requested a list of positions the president could fill, according to GPO. The Plum Book has come out every four years just after the presidential election since 1960. Anyone viewing the book (whatever the format) can look up positions by agency, position title, appointment type, pay, term expiration, and more. It is an incredibly rich source of information that has many possible uses. There are still barriers to accessing that information, however. The book is available on the GPO website in text and as a PDF, neither of which is an open format that would make sorting or reusing the underlying data a simple task.

Continue reading
Share This:

CFC (Combined Federal Campaign) Today 59063

Charity Navigator