The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress has the best opportunity in decades to bring the House into the 21st Century, if its members are up to the challenge.
1. What is the modernizing committee?
At the beginning of the 116th Congress, the House established the bipartisan Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (modernizing committee for short), the first committee since the early 1990s to investigate how Congress can fix itself. The committee has started by hearing testimony from sitting and former lawmakers, legislative experts, academics, and good government organizations about how Congress can be more modern and efficient.
2. Why is the modernizing committee important?
The committee has the opportunity to fix a representative body that too many Americans are deeply unsatisfied with. The modernizing committee needs to help Congress reclaim its power as the first and most vital branch of our national government that is directly linked to the will of the people. It needs to examine increasing the resources of Congress, including the size, diversity, and depth of expertise of its staff. The committee should recommend ways Congress can create opportunities for bipartisanship among new and current lawmakers that will forge connections between members of both parties. This committee must examine the corrosive morale and real impact of lawmakers spending half their day raising money for leadership positions and re-elections.
3. Who are the members serving on the committee?
The bipartisan committee is comprised of 12 members of Congress — six Democrats and six Republicans — appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) serves as the committee chair and Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) is the committee’s vice chair; both were elected to Congress in 2012. The other Democrats on the committee are Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (MO), Suzan DelBene (WA), Zoe Lofgren (CA), Mark Pocan (WI), and Mary Gay Scanlon (PA). The other Republicans on the committee are Reps. Susan Brooks (IN), Rodney Davis (IL), Dan Newhouse (WA), William Timmons (SC), and Rob Woodall (GA).
The lawmakers sitting on the modernizing committee have come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and were first elected to the House between 2004 and 2018.
4. What has the modernizing committee discussed so far?
The committee held its first hearing on March 12 with more than 35 members of Congress from both parties highlighting the need for more resources in the legislative branch. Recommendations included altering the schedule and calendar; increasing staff diversity, capacity, and compensation; leadership training and mentorship programs; addressing the “pay-to-play” system when it comes to high-level committee assignments in the House; and updating technology.
On March 27, a second hearing was held to address “Congressional Reforms of the Past and Their Effect on Today’s Congress” with five experts:
- John Lawrence, Ph.D., on behalf of himself (former congressional staff)
- Walter Oleszek, Congressional Research Service
- Molly Reynolds, on behalf of herself (senior fellow at the Brookings Institution)
- Mark Strand, the Congressional Institute
- Don Wolfensberger, on behalf of himself (fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center)
The third hearing, “Former Members Day: Speaking From Experience” is scheduled for Wednesday, May 1 at 2pm ET.
5. What is the timeline for the committee?
The modernizing committee is a one-year project that was established on January 4, 2019. Within that time frame, the committee will focus its efforts on how best to end dysfunction in Congress and modernize the resources available to the body. The current termination date for the committee is February 1, 2020.
6. How will the modernizing committee be successful?
Bipartisan buy-in from leadership makes it more likely reforms will be supported when the modernizing committee submits its recommendations to Congress. With members of Congress from both parties serving on the committee, two-thirds must agree on any potential recommended reforms.
7. How much is the budget for the committee?
As of January 3, the committee was approved a budget of $487,500 for the duration of the one-year project as reported in H.Res. 245.
8. How can I find updates on the modernizing committee?
Stay connected to live updates on the committee by following its work and its members on Twitter:
Members of Congress:
Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) – @RepDerekKilmer
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) – @RepCleaver
Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) – @RepDelBene
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) – @RepZoeLofgren
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) – @RepMarkPocan
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) – @RepMGS
Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) – @RepTomGraves
Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) – @RepRobWoodall
Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) – @SusanWBrooks
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) – @RodneyDavis
Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) – @RepNewhouse
Rep. William Timmons (R-SC) – @RepTimmons