Issue One statement: Members of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress should seize this historic opportunity

Today, the final members of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress were named to complete the newly created committee’s 12-person roster. The Republicans named were Vice-chair Rep. Tom Graves (GA), Rep. Susan Brooks (IN), Rep. Rodney Davis (IL), Rep. Dan Newhouse (WA), Rep. William Timmons (SC), and Rep. Rob Woodall (GA). The Democrats, named earlier this year, were Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO), Rep. Suzan DelBene (WA), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA), Rep. Mark Pocan (WI), and Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (PA). Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) was named chair.

This committee has the best opportunity in decades to bring the House into the 21st century, if its members are up to the challenge,” said Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee. “The modernizing committee represents a golden chance for both parties to come together around a set of recommendations to make the legislative body more efficient and more attractive as a public service path for current and future leaders.”

The list of problems facing Congress is long and daunting. Not only should this committee address such obvious shortcomings as administrative inefficiencies, shoddy office Wi-Fi, and the House calendar, it must take on deeper institutional problems that are standing in the way of ensuring the institution responds to the concerns of everyday Americans.

“The time has come for Congress to address the obvious shortcomings in its operations and I am hopeful that the modernizing committee members will seize the moment, and not merely be bogged down with ‘small ball,” said McGehee.

According to the resolution passed by the House in January by a vote 418-12, any recommendations by the modernizing committee must be approved by ⅔ vote within one year. The House passed H. Res. 86 this week, which designates “not more than $50,000 for the expenses of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress” for the first three months of this year.

Reforms the modernizing committee should explore include:

  • Systemic barriers preventing lawmakers from developing subject-matter expertise. Too many lawmakers spend nearly half their day raising money for re-election and to fill the party coffers, turning them into glorified telemarketers.
  • How committee chairs are selected. Both parties elect committee chairs differently, and both processes are fraught with politics that often leave out those without the greatest experience in exchange for “team players” willing to toe the party line or raise millions of dollars to share with their fellow lawmakers.
  • Recruiting and retaining staff. Capitol Hill often suffers from “brain drain” as staff rotate out to K Street and lobbying firms for higher pay. The modernizing committee should examine barriers to retaining staff, increasing budgets for research and committee work, among other issues.
  • Hold public hearings on some of the most divisive internal issues facing the body. There has been no open debate on franking, congressionally directed spending, committee jurisdiction, or numerous other thorny issues that often make Congress unpopular.
  • Examine reviving the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). Originally acting as Congress’s internal think tank, and defunded in the 1990s, the OTA would help bring the body into the 21st century, equip it with nonpartisan analysis, and advise it on current and emerging technologies and their impacts on the economy.

 

The Democrats and Republicans serving on the committee include:

Chair Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA)  Vice-chair Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA)
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO)  Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN)
Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)  Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA)
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) Rep. William Timmons (R-SC)
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA)