The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress unanimously approved 12 recommendations to improve the House’s emergency preparedness and continuity of operations capabilities on Friday, July 31.
Both Chairman Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Vice Chairman Tom Graves (R-GA) spoke about the challenges the coronavirus pandemic posed to Congress and how critical it was to keep Congress operational during such emergencies.
Kilmer (D-WA) said that the House tried to hard adapt to the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, and he highlighted steps offices like the Clerk took to facilitate the House’s business. Nonetheless, he said the Select Committee has “also tried to understand what the House might do better.”
During the pandemic, the Select Committee consulted with congressional staff to learn more about the challenges they faced. They also heard from continuity of operations experts from the Executive Branch, state governments and foreign governments to learn how Congress could maintain its work.
“Our goal was to ensure that Congress, no matter the circumstances, can continue working effectively and efficiently for the American people,” Kilmer said.
Vice Chairman Tom Graves (R-GA) said, “The American people are innovative, and we have found ways to continue working together to get the job done.”
This was the fourth set of recommendations the Committee issued. Each set has been approved unanimously. Chairman Kilmer pledged that the Select Committee Members and staff would continue working during the August recess so they can report additional recommendations in September.
Click here for Congressional Institute president Mark Strand’s statement on the Select Committee’s recommendations.
Per the Select Committee’s website, it issued the following recommendations:
1. Each office should have a continuity of operations plan, including minimum safety requirements and an emergency communications plan, that is made available to all staff so offices continue functioning for the public.
2. Ensure that staff have the most up-to-date technology and equipment to continue effectively working on behalf of constituents in the event of a disruption or emergency.
3. Establish regular maintenance plans for office technology, so the equipment and technology needed during remote operations and telework is functional.
4. Crisis communications guidelines for constituent communication, including outreach plans for extended telework periods, should be approved and shared with all Member offices.
5. To help streamline casework requests and help constituents better access federal agencies and resources, the House should implement a secure document management system, and provide digital forms and templates for public access.
6. The House should prioritize the approval of platforms that staff need for effective telework, and each individual staff member should have licensed access to the approved technology.
7. Committees should establish telework policies on a bipartisan basis.
8. The House should make permanent the option to electronically submit committee reports.
9. Expand the use of digital signatures for a majority of House business, including constituent communications.
10. Committees should develop bipartisan plans on how technology and innovative platforms can be best incorporated into daily work.
11. A bipartisan, bicameral task force should identify lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and recommend continuity of Congress improvements.
12. Continuity, telework and cybersecurity training should be given to all new Members of Congress.
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.