Working on the Hill: Data Shows Dramatic Declines Since 1981; Kosar Tells Committee The Congress Needs Bigger Staff
Congress is the “first branch” because the Founders intended the Republic’s national legislature to be “the fountain of all lawmaking authority and governmental action,” according to Kevin Kosar, vice-president for research partnerships of the R Street Institute.
Kosar’s comment came in his mid-January testimony before a hearing of the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress concerning the growing inability of the First Branch to fulfill its constitutional roles.
The cause of that growing inability is clear: Congress is starving itself of the most critical resources, especially experienced staff, to do its many jobs, according to Kosar.
“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,” he told the committee.
And yet, despite their importance to successful governance, Kosar points to a brace of data-points that demonstrate the severe shortage of staffers needed to ensure the ability of Congress to fulfill its constitutional obligations.
“In the past four decades, the U.S. population has increased by one-third and federal spending has increased sevenfold. Today, the U.S. government has more than 4 million civilian and military employees, and an annual budget in excess of $4 trillion,” Kosar testified.
“The executive branch has around 180 agencies, which administer untold thousands of statutes and programs. The U.S. government also funds, and to a degree directs, hundreds of thousands of contractors and subnational organizations,” he continued.
“Public policy has become much more complex. For example, the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 was 32 pages long. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002, which reauthorized the ESEA, was 670 pages long.
“The regulations that interpret and apply statutes are even more voluminous: The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), the corpus of existing regulatory law, runs more than 180,000 pages.”
The heart of the problem is that, as the size of government and the concurrent demands on Congress have expanded exponentially, the resources available to the national legislature, particularly staff, have declined.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than the dramatic plunge in committee staff in 1995, as seen in this chart Kosar presented to the panel during his testimony: