R Street recently signed on to a bipartisan coalition letter, addressed to the chair and ranking member of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, expressing support for additional funding to provide clearances to personal office staff of members who serve on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The request is for an additional $125,000 for each member. While neither the proposed appropriations amendment nor the letter stipulates a specific “pay for,” R Street strongly encourages members to find offsets or others ways to reconfigure member reimbursement allowances to mitigate any additional costs.

Many members of Congress currently do not fully use their allotments and make a big deal about “returning” unspent funds to the taxpayer, when in fact the money is recycled as part of the pot for the next year’s legislative appropriations.

But even if this spending can’t be offset, we would still like to see this important measure go forward, for two key reasons:

  1. As currently constructed, there is a major disparity in knowledge and experience on issues of national security between members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who are fully staffed with individuals cleared to handle confidential information and the rank-and-file offices, who have few (if any) staffers qualified to adequately advise their bosses.
  2. There is currently a dearth of institutional knowledge on Capitol Hill and many offices are not adequately staffed with the individuals with the knowledge needed to properly advise legislators. As my colleague Kevin Kosar has explained, if Congress wants to be more effective, it must “invest in itself as an institution and make some real progress in pruning the executive branch.”

The Edward Snowden revelations of 2013 and the ensuing debates over mass surveillance, privacy and national security have exemplified how the executive branch can expand power not envisioned by Congress. This simple amendment is a necessary step for our lawmakers to conduct proper oversight on issues that desperately need a watchdog in the first branch.

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