From Roll Call:

“At the very top of the list, I would say, Congress should invest in their people to help them govern better,” said Kevin Kosar, a leader of the nonpartisan Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group and vice president of policy at the R Street Institute, a think tank with libertarian roots.

Lawmakers and congressional staff alike routinely depart for K Street gigs, which pay better and typically offer better flexibility in working hours. Data from Lee Drutman, another co-chairman of the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group, and Alexander Furnas showed an uptick in members of Congress and government officials becoming lobbyists — from about 10 percent in 1998 to 25 percent in 2008. That trend has continued over the past decade, as well.

Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress, who refers to the panel as “the fix Congress committee,” said that “Congress is weak because the lobbyists are strong.”

Kilmer says staff capacity, as well as diversity in hiring and quality of life for those on the Hill, will be priorities for his committee. He noted that no position in the House has a median tenure of longer than four years.


The Washington Democrat also says technology will be a central focus, including the actual tools the legislative branch uses as well as how lawmakers can better understand the fast-changing technological advances that fall under their jurisdiction.

Some Hill observers such as William A. Galston, author of “Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy,” suggest that Congress look at resurrecting the Office of Technology Assessment, which lawmakers axed in 1995, to give the legislative branch better access to in-house expertise.

“The hearings on technology in Congress in recent years have been national embarrassments,” Galston said, adding that it was clear most members “didn’t know what they were asking their witnesses about.”

Added Schuman: “The information revolution hasn’t come to the legislative branch, and they suffer.”

Tech interests also stand ready to offer their points of view.

“One area where we think a modernized Congress could take advantage of business best practices would be using cloud computing services that provide the best mix of efficiency, redundancy, and case management tools,” said Stewart Verdery, who runs Monument Advocacy, which represents technology and other clients.

‘Hey, I’ve got an idea’

Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, is working through the American Political Science Association to bring together academia’s brightest ideas for a congressional overhaul, he said.

“We don’t have any dog in this hunt other than helping Congress function better,” Galston said. “It’s a consensus that Congress is largely a dysfunctional institution. We’re saying, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’”

A panel of political scientists from around the country will convene in Washington — with Galston and Kosar as hosts — in early March to discuss their proposals.

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