House Modernization Committee issues last round of recommendations

The House Modernization Committee has passed its final round of recommendations before its term expires at the end of this session of Congress. The committee ha...

The House Select Committee on Modernization of Congress has passed its final round of recommendations before its term expires at the end of this session of Congress.

Those recommendations include standing up a Congressional Data Task Force and identifying continuity of operations best practices the House made during the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of the committee have recommended creating a Congressional Digital Services Task Force that would overhaul the House’s internal and public-facing operations. The committee has introduced 97 recommendations over the past 20 months.

Committee Chairman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) said a final report next month would serve as “a very useful roadmap for how Congress can work better on behalf of the American people” after the committee has disbanded.

“Our intent is to make sure that these recommendations get acted on, that they pick up these recommendations and actually see progress on the issues that will make this place function better,” Kilmer said in a call with reporters Thursday.

Vice Chairman Tom Graves (R-Ga.) said the committee had made great strides in nearly two years, starting out addressing some the “low hanging fruit” of procedural reforms, but by the end delivering on bipartisan recommendations to thorny issues  such as the House scheduling and reforms to the annual budget process.

By comparison, Graves noted that a joint select committee had disbanded in the last session of Congress without its members agreeing on a single recommendation.

The committee held 16 hearings and several virtual discussions during the pandemic, as well as staff-level briefings listening sessions. By the time the committee was originally set to expire at the end of February, its members had approved 30 recommendations in eight months.

Daniel Schuman, the policy director at Demand Progress, had testified before the committee last year in a hearing aimed at improving the transparency of legislative information. He said the committee’s final round of recommendations, particularly those meant to improve staff retention, technology modernization and deliberative processes, would “in the aggregate make the House of Representatives more effective in conducting its legislative, oversight, and constituent service responsibilities.”

“We applaud the committee’s consistent and strong work and hope that, while the committee is on the verge of sunsetting and this 18-month long experiment in rehabilitating the House is coming to a close, lawmakers and leaders on Capitol Hill will create a permanent space for this work to continue,” Schuman said in a statement.

“In particular, the Modernization Committee’s recommendations that address staff retention, technology modernization, and support for the deliberative process represent a big step forward and we hope the House will put them into effect.”

Another former committee witness, Marci Harris, the CEO and co-founder of PopVox, a nonpartisan platform for legislative information and advocacy, said the committee’s recommendations, if enacted, would bring the committee closer to restoring the Office of Technology Assessment, establishing a Congressional Digital Service and making staff salaries more competitive with the private sector.

“The work of this committee – in a Congress that includes a government shutdown, impeachment, and a pandemic – demonstrates that effective functioning of the legislative branch is not a partisan issue. It has given us a strong foundation upon which the House can continue to build,” Harris said.

While some topics, such as restoring the OTA, have gained momentum in recent years, it remains unclear what recommendations, if any, the next Congress would have an interest in implementing.

While this committee’s work is over, Kilmer suggested that the Senate considering taking up a similar project, or that both chambers resolve to make these committees a more regular habit of Congress.

“This committee, if past is prologue, is a once-every-two-or-three-decades kind of thing. I think, frankly, that’s not a regular enough look at how to improve the function of Congress and make it work better for the American people,” he said. “I guess the short answer is, yeah, I think there is value in having more frequent exercises like this.”

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