On Thursday, the House Committee on Rules will meet to discuss proposed rules changes for the 117th Congress. This hearing kicks off the process of considering and adopting the rules that will govern the House of Representatives throughout the next congressional session. All members are invited to share their ideas for possible improvements to rules.

The House Rules package has long been an important tool for modernizing Congress and improving the way it functions as an institution. For example, the last House Rules package created the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, which was tasked with investigating, studying, making findings, holding public hearings and developing recommendations on modernizing Congress. The Committee has been a model for bipartisanship and last week unanimously released an impressive set of 40 recommendations for strengthening the legislative branch and improving congressional capacity.

With the Select Committee’s final report completed, it is not expected that the Committee will be reauthorized for another term. However, there are many things lawmakers can do via the Rules package to build upon the Select Committee’s success and make its recommendations a reality.

A recent report authored by Demand Progress provides a comprehensive list of 129 recommendations from congressional reform experts organized into 10 main categories: open up floor debate, empower committees and their members, encourage members to collaborate and build expertise, recruit and retain expert staff, promote ethical behavior, strengthen House operations and make them more transparent, improve Congressional technology, enhance cybersecurity, manage Congress as an institution and adopt new approaches to solving problems.

This report covers a lot of ground and is certainly worth reading in full. R Street helped lead the fight for a number of these reforms, and there are many that we especially would like to see adopted in the House Rules package. Together, these would improve how the House functions and better equip Congress to carry out its constitutional role as the first branch of government.

  1. Improve staff pay and retention. It’s no secret that Congress struggles to retain staff with high levels of expertise, and low pay is cited as the most common reason for staff departures. In order to equip Congress to carry out its role as the first branch of government and provide effective oversight over the sprawling executive branch, improving staff retention is essential. In addition to increasing pay, there are a number of ways Congress can improve staff retention and stem the Capitol Hill brain drain, including providing better professional development opportunities and training.
  2. Boost science and technology expertise. Since the dissolution of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), there has been a major gap in Congress’s technology policy aptitude and ability to confront technological challenges. Reestablishing and restructuring an improved OTA is the best way to improve technology-related congressional capacity. The House should use the Rules package to endorse the concept of a revived OTA and create a House Office of Technology Assessment.
  3. Enhance cybersecurity. Steps must be taken to ensure that electronic information that touches Members, committees and offices are not vulnerable to security breaches. The House Rules package should require all staff who have access to the House network to complete an annual cybersecurity training program. Cybersecurity support and training should also be extended to private, non-official accounts of Members and staff, which are often used to conduct official business and are especially vulnerable to access from unwanted individuals.
  4. Ensure transparency of congressional budget justifications. Earlier this month, the House overwhelmingly passed the Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act, which ensures that the public has access to congressional budget justifications, or plain-language explanations of how agencies plan to use funds appropriated by Congress. The House Rules package should increase transparency by mandating that all congressional budget justifications, both from federal and Congressional agencies, are published online in a central location. 

Despite impeachment proceedings and intense political polarization, the effort to modernize Congress was a beacon of bipartisanship and productivity in the 116th Congress. R Street looks forward to working with the House to build on these successes in the 117th and make a Congress that works better for the American people.

Image credit: lunamarina

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