Report text available as:

  • TXT
  • PDF   (PDF provides a complete and accurate display of this text.) Tip ?
                                            Union Calendar No. 328

116th Congress }                                          { Report
                        HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
  2d Session   }                                          { 116-406

======================================================================
                                              
     RECOMMENDATIONS TO IMPROVE TRANSPARENCY IN THE U.S. HOUSE OF 
                            REPRESENTATIVES

                               __________

                              R E P O R T

                               __________


                      THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE

                       MODERNIZATION OF CONGRESS

                     U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

                               __________

 [GRAPHIC NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
                               

 February 25, 2020.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on 
            the State of the Union and ordered to be printed
           
           
                              __________
               
               
                    U.S. GOVERNMENT PUBLISHING OFFICE                    
99-006                       WASHINGTON : 2020                    
          
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------         
         
           SELECT COMMITTEE ON THE MODERNIZATION OF CONGRESS

                    DEREK KILMER, Washington, Chair
ZOE LOFGREN, California              TOM GRAVES, Georgia, Vice Chair
EMANUEL CLEAVER, Missouri            ROBERT WOODALL, Georgia
SUZAN DelBENE, Washington            SUSAN W. BROOKS, Indiana
MARK POCAN, Wisconsin                RODNEY DAVIS, Illinois
MARY GAY SCANLON, Pennsylvania       DAN NEWHOUSE, Washington
                                     WILLIAM TIMMONS, South Carolina
                                     
                                 ------                                

                            Committee Staff

                      Allie Neill, Staff Director
                   Jake Olson, Deputy Staff Director
                   
                         LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL

                              ----------                              

                          House of Representatives,
         Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress,
                                 Washington, DC, February 25, 2020.
Hon. Cheryl L. Johnson,
Clerk, House of Representatives,
Washington, DC.
    Dear Ms. Johnson: I present herewith a report entitled, 
``Recommendations To Improve Transparency In The U.S. House Of 
Representatives.''
            Sincerely,
                                              Derek Kilmer,
                                                             Chair.
                            
                            
                            C O N T E N T S

                              ----------                              

                           February 25, 2020

                                                                   Page
 I. PURPOSE AND SUMMARY...............................................1
II. BACKGROUND AND NEED FOR RECOMMENDATIONS...........................1
III.HEARINGS..........................................................3

IV. RECOMMENDATIONS...................................................3
 V. COMMITTEE CONSIDERATION AND VOTES.................................4



                                            Union Calendar No. 328

116th Congress }                                          { Report
                        HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
  2d Session   }                                          { 116-406

======================================================================
 
     RECOMMENDATIONS TO IMPROVE TRANSPARENCY IN THE U.S. HOUSE OF 
                            REPRESENTATIVES

                                _______
                                

 February 25, 2020.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on 
            the State of the Union and ordered to be printed

                                _______
                                

Mr. Kilmer, from the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, 
                        submitted the following

                              R E P O R T

                         I. PURPOSE AND SUMMARY

    The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress has 
been charged with the important responsibility of recommending 
improvements to the U.S. House of Representatives to ultimately 
better serve the American people. These initial recommendations 
propose to improve transparency and ease public access to 
legislative information in the U.S. House of Representatives. 
While legislative information is public, it is often not made 
available in a format that allows the public to easily review 
and understand this information. These recommendations address 
such transparency and access problems and encourage the 
continuous coordination and public posting of new legislative 
information.

              II. BACKGROUND AND NEED FOR RECOMMENDATIONS

    Over the past decade, there has been a significant push to 
make congressional data more accessible to the American public 
in an interactive and understandable way. Transparency 
increases accountability and ultimately improves the way 
Congress serves the people.
    The Select Committee identified the following issues to be 
addressed with recommendations to improve transparency:
          1. The House currently uses four different formats to 
        write and view legislation, which creates 
        inefficiencies in the process. Maintaining, converting, 
        and reconverting between multiple formats requires 
        costly custom software, risks errors, and hinders 
        transparency. Adopting U.S. Legislative Markup (USLM)--
        one of the four formats currently used and the 
        recognized standard--throughout the lawmaking process 
        creates a more coherent system for members and staff; 
        simplifies drafting; allows for instant comparison of 
        proposed bills to current law; provides transparency; 
        and, allows for changes made by amendments to be 
        automatically reflected in bills once they are 
        approved.
          2. In 2017, new rules adopted by the House encouraged 
        greater transparency and access to legislative 
        documents. These rules called for additional tools for 
        members, staff, and the public to clearly see how 
        proposed legislation could change our laws throughout 
        the legislative process. This initiative, known as the 
        Posey Comparative Prints Project, has already completed 
        Phase 1, and is on track to meet their Phase 2 and 
        Phase 3 deadlines. However, the Select Committee has 
        identified possible areas of concern including making 
        sure that (1) resources are available to develop and 
        maintain the application for House-wide use, and (2) 
        resources are available to train and support staff 
        using the comparative print application. Ensuring that 
        the Clerk's Office is ready to handle these anticipated 
        challenges is key to a smooth transition to 
        implementing the comparative print program, and 
        ensuring the public can easily view and understand 
        proposed changes to our laws.
          3. Filing and finding lobbyist disclosures should be 
        straight-forward and simple. A Congress-wide unique 
        identifier for lobbyists would eliminate the problem of 
        misspelled names, or the same person having 
        registrations under different first names (example: 
        Mike/Michael) causing confusion. By assigning unique 
        identifiers, the Clerk's Office would clarify and 
        simplify the lobbying registration and disclosure 
        process, while making the filing process simpler.
          4. Over the last few decades, Congress has 
        increasingly failed to regularly update the 
        authorization of federal agencies and programs. As a 
        result, the management of wide expanses of the federal 
        government has shifted to the executive branch, and 
        many programs and departments operate on autopilot 
        without meaningful congressional input. Making agency 
        and program reauthorization dates public provides 
        members, staff, and the public with easy-to-access 
        information about the current status of executive 
        branch programs and the committees that are responsible 
        for authorizing those programs.
          5. Figuring out how members of a committee or its 
        subcommittees voted on any bill or issue before the 
        committee or its subcommittees can be difficult. Each 
        committee sets its own procedures for making this 
        information publicly available. The information is 
        public, yet it's not easy to access by most Americans. 
        Some subscriber services collect and provide this 
        information to paying subscribers. But for the average 
        person--and even for members and staff not on the 
        committee--this information is difficult and time-
        consuming to collect. Publishing committee votes in a 
        centralized location improves transparency and access 
        to this information for the public at-large.

                             III. HEARINGS

    The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress held 
a hearing titled, ``Opening up the Process: Recommendations for 
Making Legislative Information More Transparent'' on May 10, 
2019. The Select Committee received testimony from:
    * Daniel Schuman, Policy Director, Demand Progress
    * Joshua Tauberer, Founder, GovTrack.us
    * Robert Reeves, Deputy House Clerk, U.S. House of 
Representatives
    * Frances Lee, Professor, University of Maryland

                          IV. RECOMMENDATIONS

    The Select Committee made the following five 
recommendations to address the problems identified (see II. 
BACKGROUND AND NEED FOR RECOMMENDATIONS). The Select Committee 
supports:
         1. Adopting one standardized format for drafting, 
        viewing, and publishing legislation to improve 
        transparency and efficiency throughout the lawmaking 
        process.
         Specifically . . . Develop a plan for the adoption of 
        U.S. Legislative Markup (USLM) throughout the lawmaking 
        process. The plan would incorporate a timeline for use 
        by the House Legislative Counsel, members' offices, 
        leadership, and committees. Such an approach would help 
        members, staff, and the American public have access to 
        changes, visualizations, and analysis of legislative 
        text. Printing and publishing processes would also be 
        made more efficient.
         2. Providing resources to finish legislation 
        comparison project on schedule and train staff to 
        vastly improve the American public's ability to 
        understand how amendments change legislation, and the 
        impact of proposed legislation to current law.
         Specifically . . . The Clerk's Office is on track to 
        meet their Posey Comparative Print Project Phase 2 
        (August 2019) and Phase 3 (3rd quarter 2020) deadlines. 
        The main issues of concern are making sure that (1) 
        resources are available to develop and maintain the 
        application for House-wide use, and (2) resources are 
        available to train and support staff using the 
        comparative print application. Support would include 
        ensuring that the Clerk's Office is ready to handle 
        these anticipated challenges to implement the 
        comparative print program.
         3. Modernizing the lobbying disclosure system to 
        improve the filing process and more easily find and 
        track individual disclosures.
         Specifically . . . Direct the Clerk of the House and 
        Secretary of the Senate to update the lobbying 
        disclosure system in general and generate a Congress-
        wide unique identifier for lobbyists and disclosing 
        that identifier to the public as structured data as 
        part of the lobbying disclosure downloads.
         4. Developing a centralized, electronic HUB that would 
        list all federal agency and program reauthorization 
        expiration dates, by committee.
         Specifically . . . Congress has increasingly failed to 
        regularly update the authorization of federal agencies 
        and programs. Centralizing agency and program 
        reauthorization dates provides members, staff, and the 
        public with easy-to-access information about the 
        current status of executive branch programs and the 
        committees that are responsible for authorizing those 
        programs.
         5. Developing a centralized, electronic HUB of 
        committee votes that would be accessible via House.gov 
        and in machine readable format.
         Specifically . . . Figuring out how a committee or its 
        subcommittees voted on any bill or issue before the 
        committee or its subcommittees can be prohibitively 
        difficult. Each committee sets its own procedures for 
        making this information publicly available. The 
        information is public, yet it's not easy to access by 
        most Americans. Centralizing committee vote data in one 
        place enhances transparency and ensures ease of access 
        for the public.

                  V. COMMITTEE CONSIDERATION AND VOTES


                             Consideration

    On May 23, 2019, the Select Committee held a Business 
Meeting, a quorum being present, and reported favorably the 
recommendations herein contained in this report.

                                 Votes

    In compliance with clause 3(b) of rule XIII of the Rules of 
the House of Representatives, there were no recorded votes 
taken on these recommendations. The recommendations herein 
contained in this report were adopted by voice vote, two-thirds 
being in the affirmative. A motion by Chair Derek Kilmer of 
Washington to report these recommendations to the House of 
Representatives was adopted by voice vote, two-thirds being in 
the affirmative.

                                  [all]