Oct 29, 2019

Treats, Not Tricks: How the Modernization Committee is Shaking Things Up by Making Congress Sweeter

From gruesome mudslinging to partisan chain-rattling, Congress can often feel as spooky as Halloween. It’s time for more treats and fewer tricks, and thankfully, the Modernization Committee is working to do just that. As one of the few truly bipartisan committees in Congress with an equal mix of Democrats and Republicans, the work—not to mention comradery (have you checked out its uncharacteristically pleasant hearings?!)of the Modernization Committee indicates a light at the end of the dark, gridlocked tunnel that leads to our current legislative graveyard. 

Since its creation in January, the committee has passed over two dozen recommendations aimed at revitalizing the institution to make it work better for the American people. Here’s how the Modernization Committee is making Congress sweeter: 

1. Improving Congress’s Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Transparency 

Among the committee’s recommendations is to establish a standardized system and format for drafting, viewing, publishing legislation, and providing for real-time comparison to current law. These recommendations are a win-win for both Congress and the American people.  They would benefit members by making proposed changes and their ramifications more easily and quickly identified, and the public can better understand congressional proposals in a more accessible way. The measures would add a level of transparency by allowing the public to search committee votes, making it easier for Americans to engage with legislation affecting their day-to-day lives.

2. Making the House More Accessible to All Americans 

The committee has recommended improving access to congressional websites for those with disabilities and requiring that broadcasts of House proceedings are provided with closed caption service. Additionally, the committee has called for a required review of the Capitol complex to assess accessibility challenges for constituents with disabilities. These recommendations would quite literally ensure access to the Legislative Branch to all Americans. 

3. Making Congress More Responsive by Modernizing and Revitalizing Technology 

While the perception might be that Congress has the latest, most advanced technology available to it, that is far from reality. Outdated technology has made it difficult and more time consuming for members of Congress to do their work.  For the public, it makes it harder to understand and access what is happening. The committee’s recommendations urge efforts to improve technologies and IT services in the House, enabling members to better do their jobs while also improving constituent engagement. 

 The committee has also called for improving science and technology capabilities for the Legislative Branch.  This includes reviving and restructuring the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). As science, technology, and data capabilities evolve, Congress must be able to rapidly receive timely, high-quality, non-partisan information in order to guide its policy decisions. Since the defunding of the OTA over two decades ago, Congress has increasingly lacked the necessary understanding and resources to address critical technological issues that will shape our nation’s future. A modernized OTA would give Congress a better grounding on key issues in order to make informed decisions on these critical issues. 

4. Promoting Civility and Bipartisanship through a Revitalized New Member Onboarding Process   

New members of Congress present a unique opportunity to buck the status quo of partisan gridlock in Congress, but their initial orientations fall along party lines making it difficult for these new faces to form critical bonds and build trust across the aisle when they first enter Congress. To boost bipartisanship and promote civility, the committee has called for a revitalized new member orientation. These crucial relationships would enable Congress to accomplish more work for the American people. 

5. Streamlining and Reorganizing House Human Resources 

While members of Congress are our voices in government, congressional staff are the boots on the ground key to keeping our government running. But long hours, demanding and stressful work, and low salary often lead to a high turnover rate on Capitol Hill. With a steady stream of staff leaving Congress, there is a real loss of institutional knowledge and experience. For the American people, this results in a slower legislative process, meaning less gets done on our behalf. The Modernization Committee is addressing these challenges by creating a comprehensive human resource hub for staff. It has also called for a regular survey of staff on improving pay and benefits. 

Americans want a Congress That Works. The Modernization Committee is working—and these recommendations represent significant progress toward ending the trickery and spookiness of Congress and creating a sweeter institution that does, in fact, work on behalf of the American people. We’re getting closer to a Congress That Works; to get there, other House committees and the leadership of both parties must act on implementing these critical reforms. 

Is Congress Working for You?