Written testimony of Kevin R. Kosar
Vice President of Research Partnerships, R Street Institute
Before the U.S. House of Representatives, Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress,
Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight
January 14, 2020
Thank you, Chairman Kilmer, co-chairman Graves and members of the Select Committee for holding this hearing and receiving my testimony.
I am vice president of research partnerships at the R Street Institute, and I co-direct the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group, a monthly transpartisan gathering of scholars, congressional staff and folks who care about the well-being of Congress.
I was invited here to discuss congressional capacity, particularly the staffing aspect of congressional capacity.
In summation, the evidence of insufficient congressional capacity is substantial. Demands upon Congress have grown immensely over the past century, and Congress has actually divested in its capacity over the past 40 years. In tandem, these divergent trendlines all but ensure that Congress will fall short of the expectations of legislators, staff and the public.
Congressional capacity defined
To understand congressional capacity, it is useful to think about Congress in its broadest terms: It is an organization of individuals, established to achieve particular goals. These goals, as I discuss below, are myriad.
Like any organization—a charity or a restaurant, for example—Congress’ performance is greatly, but not entirely, affected by its capacity. It can only do as much as it is capable of doing.
In the congressional context, capacity can be defined as “the human and physical infrastructure Congress needs to resolve public problems through legislating, budgeting, holding hearings, and conducting oversight.” Some specific aspects of congressional capacity are: intra-chamber organization (e.g., committee organization), processes for allocating resources (e.g., the leadership selection process), processes for executing tasks (e.g., how bills go to the floor) and people. Central to congressional capacity are the people who work in the chambers, legislators and staff—the people whose efforts produce governance.