The fallout from the attempted murder of Paul Pelosi reverberates as Americans go to the polls. Those charged with protecting Members of Congress have asked for even more money while the proximate cause of security failures — bad leadership, bad management, bad oversight — remain unaddressed. As some on the new right escalate and make light of political violence, its likelihood increases.
This week Americans elect a new Congress.
Staff pay. The House Chief Administrative Officer circulated a new analysis of pay for congressional staff, comparing average annual salary ranges for 2022 v. 2021 based on third-quarter pay rates. For the positions compared, the average salary increased by 23%, from $67,420 to $82,849. This significant increase reflects a tremendous House commitment to restore pay levels for staff to their 2010 levels, as they had been cut mercilessly in the intervening years. We also note that no staffer in a House personal office surveyed is paid below the floor of $45,000 annually, which was not true previously. The analysis only covers personal office staff and does not include committee or leadership positions. The details are here.
Mastodon. The great #TwitterRapture, or perhaps #ElonExit, is taking place, with Mastodon now hosting 4.5 million accounts and 1.3 million active users and growing at a fast pace. When will Members of Congress, committees, leadership, and non-partisan offices open up accounts? Will there be an official congressional “instance,” such as mastodon.congress.gov? So far the only congressional account we saw was for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and that retweets her Twitter account. Know any congressional offices on Mastodon? Let us know here. The unofficial tally is here. I’m online here. Is this all a good idea? I’m old enough to have worked at the Sunlight Foundation when it ran a campaign called “Let Our Congress Tweet.” There’s definitely a lot of lessons learned. OTOH, at least one government has jumped in.
Down the line, Congress will reconvene on Nov. 14, with the Senate scheduled to take up the NDAA. House Republicans will hold conference rules and leadership elections through the week of the 14th. The House Modernization Committee will vote on its final set of recommendations Nov. 17. Democratic leadership elections look likely at the end of the month, or perhaps later.
MONEY OR MANAGEMENT?
Sitting more than 3,000 miles away, US Capitol Police could have seen a man with a hammer breaking into Paul and Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home, if they were looking. They had installed cameras at the residence more than eight years ago.
Since his arrest, we have learned that the man who fractured Paul Pelosi’s skull was, by his own admission, looking to take the Speaker of the House hostage and break her kneecaps. He is a devotee of 2020 election, QAnon, COVID, white supremacist, and antisemitic conspiracy theories. Pelosi was not his only target.
US Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger responded to the attack by calling for more money to add “redundancies” to measures in place to protect Members of Congress. His department is not starving for resources. Its FY 2022 budget was just over $600 million, an $85 million-ish increase over the previous year. This year, the House added another $107 million on that pile, which remains to be approved in the lame duck. Already the Senate is talking about adding more on top of that. At the current proposed increase, the Capitol Police would receive an overall 37% increase since FY 2021. At that amount, Congress would spend roughly the same as San Francisco does on its police force – seventh-most among US cities. In 2000, the Capitol Police were funded at around $150 million in today’s dollars. Yes, their budget has increased more than four-fold in 22 years. (This does not include the funds spent on security infrastructure, which goes under the expansive Architect of the Capitol account.)
The challenges facing the USCP are unusual given the importance to the nation of the people they serve, who routinely fly all over the country and hold open public events. To meet those challenges, the department has around the same number of officers as New Orleans and Miami, most patrolling less than two square miles of Washington.
The last two years have accelerated a decades-long trend of heaping money at the department’s challenges. As our research revealed right before the January 6 attack, one-in-every-three new dollars spent on the Legislative branch between FY 1995 and FY 2021 went to the USCP.
So what are these officers doing? We found that between the end of 2018 and 2020, more than half of reported incidents were traffic stops, while another 14% were street drug busts, often people smoking marijuana around Union Station. Only 32% of arrests officers made were on the immediate Capitol Campus. We don’t trust their reported numbers on arrests, by the way, which is part-and-parcel of their culture of unaccountability and opacity.
The report Speaker Pelosi commissioned to recommend security changes after January 6 called for hiring more than 850 more officers (as well as filling current vacancies) to provide specialized services like intelligence gathering and protection of dignitaries. We think, as the Capitol Police Inspector General and others have suggested, that the force needs to refocus as a security force, not a police force.
The story USCP tells is one of an ever-escalating threat environment feeding a need for an ever larger and more capable force. It reports that threats to Members of Congress soared to more than 9,600 in 2021. But, as House Admin Committee Chair Zoe Lofgren noted in a letter to Chief Manger last week, the department reported only 217 cases were presented to US Attorney’s offices for prosecution. Of those, only 27 cases were pursued by prosecutors.
In other words, three-tenths of one percent of threats recorded by the department resulted in prosecutions. While there’s no doubt in our minds that threats are going up, we suspect that the rise in numbers may be attributable to the facts that (1) the USCP is starting to pay attention and likely monitoring more information sources, and (2) not distinguishing among the seriousness of the threats. Are they juking the stats?
So again, what are USCP leadership doing with their time? How does the department sort through threats? Have they addressed their longstanding deficiencies with intelligence gathering? Have they implemented independent training programs for their leadership and for their various departments? And as the letter asks, how many threats involve Congressional leaders specifically?
We know very little about USCP operations and management to be able to assess if perpetual requests for enormous additional resources are being used to address the serious threats that exist. The inherent structure of the Capitol Police creates an insular culture that is unaccountable and rife with conflicts of interest. A board composed of the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms and the AOC supervise the department. The Capitol Police Chief is an ex-officio board member, too. Will throwing more money at them create any better results absent systematic reforms?
As I testified in February, this oversight structure is inherently flawed. Police chiefs believe they answer only to leadership and not congressional oversight committees. The board meets in secret. Members of the board have proposed policy changes that greatly impact the openness and privacy of the Capitol Campus without significant congressional or civil society input. USCP leadership and senior staff largely remain in place after the Jan. 6 insurrection when you would think a vote of no confidence by the rank-and-file and obvious failures would have shown them the door. The department’s inspector general lacks structural independence from its chief and governing board, who directed the IG’s reports be secret.
The Architect of the Capitol also has testified that the Capitol Police Board routinely declares matters it deliberates to be “classified” and therefore inaccessible to the public or congressional staff, even though they don’t have the authority to classify matters and that classifying for the purpose of avoiding accountability is not allowed.
Summaries of IG reports about the Jan. 6 attack that have seen the light of day, as well as those by GAO, fault the lack of planning, poor management, communication failure, and leadership decisions that didn’t take the intent of violence by the mob seriously enough for the day’s outcomes. (I have gathered these documents on this GitHub page.) These issues have almost nothing to do with how many hundreds of millions of dollars the department has at its disposal.
We hope in light of the terrifying attack on the Pelosi residence that Congress and the press focus on how USCP is operating without sufficient accountability. As our sister organization Demand Progress urged this spring, change needs to start at the top with reformulating the governing board in charge of the department and creating a separate independent oversight board. The department’s IG should have full independence, report to Congress, and follow the best practices of federal inspectors general by publishing final reports promptly on oversight.gov. Congress also should apply FOIA-like regulations to the department to assist civil society and the press in understanding how USCP performs its duties with the enormous budget it already has.
It was important to make these changes in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6 because it was clear the security situation for Congress was going to remain unsettled. In the nearly two years since, the Stop the Steal conspiracy has become mainstream Republican dogma. Half of potential incoming Republican Members of the 118th Congress deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election. People who monitor the MAGAsphere note rising violent threats, particularly against the Speaker. The GOP has spent almost $40 million on attack ads featuring Pelosi this election cycle. As I mentioned to NBC News, the risks to the Pelosi household were foreseeable.
The midterm elections will mirror the 2020 election, with early and mail-in voting distorting the initial count and our under-resourced, bespoke election administration system delivering final results in days if not weeks. USCP and the entire federal antiterrorism apparatus know this is a powderkeg situation. At least, we hope they realize it.
As Lofgren’s letter makes clear, we still don’t know if the department has the appropriate standard operating procedures, agreements with other law enforcement agencies, and training systems in place to counter a threat that has metastasized and is targeting members well beyond the Capitol. The details of the Pelosi attack suggest the answers are no. We hope the next several weeks do not reveal a high cost of that bureaucratic mismanagement or the decision by this Congress not to raze the governing and administrative structures of the department and start again.
Meanwhile, Members are trying to protect themselves by floating the idea of allowing themselves as well as federal judges to remove personal information like home addresses from the internet. A bill attached to the pending NDAA would grant the judiciary such abilities. There’s no shortage of stalkers and abusers out there threatening regular people, so why not extend it to everyone?
Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton serves on the USCP board. That position doesn’t make him a cop. Nevertheless, Blanton reportedly pretended to be a cop with a government vehicle during a hit-and-run incident with his daughter’s car, according to an AOC IG report filed last week. The ethics complaint also mentions Blanton drove AOC-leased vehicles on long family road trips and let his daughter use them for Walmart runs.
Blanton has served as AOC since early 2020 after being forwarded to President Trump for nomination by a 14-member committee. Congress does not have authority over his 10-year term. Top Democrats on the Appropriations, Legislative Branch subcommittees, CHA, and Senate Rules Committees have demanded his resignation. (Hat tip to pinch-hit Huddle author Olivia Beavers for digging up this CRS report on how the Architect is selected.)
It’s time for him to go and for Congress to start again and create an effective security apparatus that keeps Members, their staff, and guests safe while keeping Congress open.
House Republicans will waste no time in selecting new conference leaders for the 118th Congress, voting on Nov. 15 on their top positions. Majority whip is expected to be the only contested election, with Reps. Jim Banks, Tom Emmer, and Drew Furguson vying for the role if/when Steve Scalise becomes Majority Leader.
The next day will be more important to the near-term future of the chamber. GOP Members will vote on conference rules and the structure of the steering committee. Republicans will vote on the members of the steering committee on Nov 18. Some members were pushing to vote on conference rules before selecting leadership, which would have put more power in the hands of the rank-and-file, so we will see if that happens.
House Freedom Caucus members have zeroed in on changes to elevate their status within the Conference. They seek a return to principles of “regular order,” like requiring bills to be reported out of committees before passage (unless waived) and securing floor votes for amendments with more than 10% of Republican support. They also have proposed allowing committees to elect their chairs and creating more seats on the steering committee that are elected rather than chosen by leadership.
If these reforms occur, power would be equalized in the House away from leadership more than it has been in decades. This would change where the points of conflict are in the chamber, creating opportunities for committees to wrest some of the legislative agenda from the Speaker and for members to hold leadership’s feet to the fire much more publicly. Creeping closer to broadening agenda setting would make the process of maintaining party discipline more difficult for leadership. The ability to dictate terms to the rank-and-file has shrunk the legislative process to negotiations between four to six people in the last Congress or two (at least) and put bills on a bullet train to floor votes. November 16, therefore, is much more consequential than the day before, even though leadership elections will garner the headlines.
In a perfect world, these changes could be productive by leading to better governing outcomes for more Americans. They could open up places for cross-party agreement on issues between members that successfully challenge leadership’s desires – we’ve seen this happen on government transparency, privacy, and civil liberties issues. They potentially scramble the importance of seniority and fundraising in the conference hierarchy and just might make committee work relevant again. The machine built by Speaker Pelosi left so much of the House spectating.
Instead of a perfect world, however, we’re going to get an extraordinary reactionary Republican conference. Whether or not the HFC succeeds in securing all of their proposed rules changes, its members and other new right Members are positioned to have real power for the first time, particularly on committees. Incentives remain to use their platforms to continue to plug into the outrage engine powering their small-dollar fundraising, creating further power in grabbing the spotlight. Is the political press ready for that?
In terms of committees relevant to Congressional operations, Punchbowl reports that Rep. Kay Granger is likely to become House Appropriations Committee chair. We’ll be tracking who winds up chair and ranking on its Legislative Branch subcommittee to succeed Reps. Tim Ryan and Jaime Herrera Buetler – who were terrific. Kevin McCarthy would appoint the chair of CHA and the leading candidate appears to be Rep. Bryan Stiel.
Democrats are preparing to hold their elections after Thanksgiving.
The Select House Committee on the Modernization of Congress has chosen a nuts and bolts approach for its work, focusing on recommendations that were capable of being implemented with the proper support and guidance from Legislative branch officials. Over recent weeks, the committee crossed another eight recommendations of its list of 195 as being fully implemented, raising the grand total to 42. Another 88 have been partially implemented or have demonstrated some progress.
We noted a major one last week: the launch of the House’s comparative print tool suite. The House also will start providing closed caption service to all proceedings and install secure Wi-Fi in all district offices. The CAO and Office of Diversity and Inclusion also will begin collecting anonymized demographic data from Congressional staff during onboarding, which will be important to monitoring progress on staff diversification efforts. We haven’t been able to confirm that some of these initiatives have begun, however, or how exactly they will work.
Staff also will be able to have offices pay for professional development education that include a certification and not have student loan repayments count toward maximum compensation levels.
One recommendation remaining to be tackled is the creation of a congressional commission on evidence-based policymaking, with the goal of better congressional use of data in the legislative process. This commission likely would examine creating a Chief Data Officer position for Congress, which the Evidence Act of 2018 requires of all federal agencies.
The Data Foundation recently surveyed CDOs at Executive branch departments to understand how they are implementing agency action plans for the position. So far, CDOs believe their role is changing organizational culture about data quality and use. A majority report at least partial implementation of five of the six priority action items in a 2021 plan.
The Data Foundation recommends Congress increase and grant more flexibility in funding CDO offices and removing the sunset provision for the CDO Council for the Evidence Act. It also suggests Congress create a CDO position at OMB.
ODDS AND ENDS
Chief Justice John Roberts blocked the Treasury Department from giving the House Ways and Means Committee former President Donald Trump’s tax returns, overruling the US Court of Appeals in DC. The committee has tried since 2019 to access the returns. This points, once again, to the problems of relying on the courts to enforce congressional prerogatives.
The National Archives of the UK rolled out a legislative drafting platform called Lawmaker several years ago for the Scottish and British Parliaments. The Archives’ Matt Lynch reflects on two years of development and use of the tool by legislators and support offices.
Congressional staff can apply to a new professional learning certificate program about using data in policy-making at the University of California at Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. Applications are open through December 9, with a late admission deadline of Jan. 15, 2023. (I am connected with this project.)
Modernizing the new Congress. The Lincoln Network is hosting a panel discussion on opportunities for reform and modernization of the House of Representatives on November 17, 2022, from 1:15-3:00. Register here.
Legal research. The Legal Research Institute of the Law Library of Congress will hold a webinar on recently published reports in its Foreign and Comparative Law Webinar Series November 17 from 2:00-3:00 PM. Register here.
Applications for the Progressive Talent Pipeline program, which connects policy wonks with jobs in Congress and executive branch, are due November 20.
The next Congressional Data Task Force meeting will be December 13 from 2:00-4:00 PM online. No registration is available yet.
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