The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress issued its first set of recommendations on Thursday, May 23. Committee members unanimously agreed to five recommendations that are aimed at promoting transparency and public accountability, following a hearing on the topic two weeks ago. The bipartisan agreement on reforms is a major achievement as similar panels in recent years have failed to produce any recommendations, let alone consensus proposals.
Both Chairman Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Vice Chairman Garrett Graves (R-GA) noted that the Select Committee was the first bipartisan committee to issue recommendations on a rolling basis.
“There’s been several special select committees over the last many years we’ve all heard about, and I believe we’re the first special select committee that is producing recommendations here on a rolling basis—or any basis at all—and we should all be pleased with this great step,” said Vice Chairman Graves.
As Vice Chairman Graves noted, bipartisan committees have not fared as well in recent decades. Last year, neither the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform nor the Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans managed to recommend reforms. (Chairman Kilmer was a member of the 2018 joint select committee.) At the beginning of this decade, the 2011 Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction also dissolved without reporting any recommendations.
The 1993 Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, an effort to make widescale reforms to the Legislative Branch, issued recommendations, but the two Chambers did not agree to a single set of reforms, with each house preferring to go its own way. Additionally, in the House, only two Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues to approve the final report.
The Select Committee recommended:
- Developing a plan for Congress to adopt the U.S. Legislative Markup throughout all parts of the legislative process. The shift would make it easier for Members, staffers and the public to track the development and evolution of legislation.
- Providing necessary resources to complete an ongoing project to develop and rollout software that shows in real-time how proposals amend legislation and current law.
- Updating how information about lobbying is provided to the public.
- Developing a public database to provide information about whether Federal agencies and programs have current authorizations.
- Developing a public, centralized database to provide the results of committee votes.
The Select Committee does not have the authority to report legislation, so Chairman Kilmer announced that he would introduce legislation to implement the recommendations, and he encouraged his colleagues to sign on as co-sponsors.
The Select Committee may continue to issue recommendations throughout the rest of this year. Though it will no doubt encounter issues that will be more controversial than the recommendations approved this week, the Select Committee has shown that its Members can find mutually agreeable reforms amid ideological diversity. The Select Committee has started to show Congress and the country what it is capable of—we’ll see what else it can do.
Mark Strand is the President of the Congressional Institute and Timothy Lang is a research director. The Sausage Factory blog is a Congressional Institute project dedicated to explaining parliamentary procedure, Congressional politics, and other issues pertaining to the Legislative Branch.