With so many moving issues before Congress, one often wonders how they can effectively juggle so many topics and concerns that are needed to govern an entire nation. What makes the highest legislative body in the country function? Members of Congress serve in important positions, but they also rely heavily on a wide network of staff within their offices as well as from support agencies to help them carry out their legislative duties. This variety of resources is in place to help them be the best lawmakers they can be, both in how they engage with their constituents and accessing information and events that can help them make more informed decisions. Here is a small glimpse at a few of these vital offices and how they help Congress do their job:
Far more than just one person, the Architect of the Capitol is actually a network of several thousand professionals who work hard to preserve the buildings and facilities that are essential to Congress. They are like the public works department of a small city working tirelessly behind the scenes to repair and maintain facilities, buildings, and much more including the Capitol Grounds, the Visitors Center, and the Library of Congress.
The nonpartisan CBO, which was set up in 1974, provides crucial economic and budget information to congressional offices. CBO develops baseline budget and economic projections, cost estimates, and long-term projections, among a variety of other services to make sure members have the most accurate information. Additionally, CBO testifies in congressional hearings and prepares detailed analytic reports that cover every area of federal policy as well as the overall budget picture. CBO’s counterpart in the Executive Branch is the Office of Management and Budget.
The GAO is nearly a hundred years old and has played an important role in government efficiency. Referred to as “the congressional watchdog,” the GAO provides federal agencies and Congress with ways to save money and ensure that federal programs work as efficiently and effectively as possible. Members can request studies and receive testimony from the GAO. Further, the Office of General Counsel issues legal decisions and opinions regarding public funds and the potential violations of the Antideficiency Act.
The office produces and distributes information, products, and services for all three branches of the Federal Government. With demand for print publications falling and a move underway to digital document production and preservation, the name of the GPO was officially changed to “Government Publishing Office” in December 2014.
As the largest library in the world, the LOC is a research library that houses the U.S. Copyright Office and millions of books, photographs, and newspapers. The Congressional Research Service helps individual members and committees by offering confidential, objective, and accurate analysis to help lawmakers and their staff draft legislation and serve their constituents. The LOC has a rich history, stretching back all the way to Thomas Jefferson, who valued books and relied on their wealth of knowledge for much of his life in the government, at Monticello, and beyond. During the American Revolution and his time serving as a minister in France, he acquired thousands of works of literature, eventually making him the owner of the largest personal collection of books in the country. Jefferson offered to sell his collection to Congress to make up for the significant loss induced by the British when they burned the existing collection during the War of 1812; thus, it was sold for $23,950 (approximately $390,520 today when adjusted for inflation). In a twist of fate, Christmas Eve of 1851 produced another severe fire, which claimed most of the volumes originally purchased from Jefferson. Today, the LOC is hard at work, attempting to piece together what is left of his vast collection.
The Capitol Police is a results-oriented law enforcement agency that strives to protect members, employees, and visitors in a secure environment. They oversee permits, facility entrances, security checkpoints, as well as couriers and package deliveries.
All of these agencies are one small piece of a big puzzle that is Congress. After all, their individual duties and obligations help Congress carry out its daily functions and serve the American people. These congressional resources are absolutely imperative to the function of Congress, and they should be recognized as such. We thank them for their services to Congress and thus the American people.