Mundane administrative tasks take up valuable time that members and their staff can use to provide constituent service and/or do legislative work. Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to reform the administrative processes of the Legislative Branch and increase efficiency across the board. However, progress has been noticeably slow.
In order to delve deeper into the root of the problem and create innovative solutions, the recently-extended Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress held a hearing where experts shared their insight and expertise on how Congress should improve its inner workings to increase its effectiveness while cutting costs and saving taxpayer money.
Witnesses included Teresa Gerton, CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration; R. Eric Petersen, a Specialist in American National Government from the Congressional Research Service; Drew Willison, former Senate Sergeant at Arms; and Michael Ptasienski, the Inspector General of the House of Representatives. Here are the three takeaways on how Congress can enhance the efficiency of its administrative tasks:
1. Reform information technology systems.
Instead of allowing members to single-handedly control their entire network, transitioning into a centralized system would save a significant amount of taxpayer money. Moreover, a centralized system would ensure that every system is aligning with current security standards and lessen the likelihood of vulnerabilities from internal and external threats.
2. Expand travel card programs.
As it currently stands, only members of Congress and their chiefs of staff are entitled to use government travel cards—other staff are excluded, regardless of how often they are required to travel for their job. Expanding this resource to more staff will help track House expenditures more efficiently.
3. Utilize specialized staffing systems.
Often, offices will delegate administrative tasks to busy staff members who already have their plates full with legislative and constituent work. As congressional operations and procedures become increasingly complex, there has been a rising need for specialized staff, especially in the realm of finances and information technology. These staff, who will not be affiliated with any member office, can be used on an “as needed” basis and has the potentially to drastically lower operational costs.
Amid all the dysfunction, one thing remains clear: The administrative processes of Congress have not caught up to 21st century standards. It certainly has much room for improvement, and our Legislative Branch has an obligation to seize this incredible opportunity and rethink the way it approaches its internal functions. The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is well on their way to tackling this issue, among many others. Stay tuned for more hearings as the committee continues its work through 2020!
Miss the hearing? Catch it here.