June 18, 2020

Select Committee Hosts Virtual Discussion with American Political Science Association Task Force

Today the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (“Select Committee”) hosted a discussion with members of the American Political Science Association (APSA) to discuss ongoing recommendations for congressional reform, with a specific focus on congressional capacity, the need for a diverse congressional staff, and the congressional schedule and calendar. Last year following the creation of the Select Committee, APSA created the Task Force on Congressional Reform, comprised of more than 30 congressional experts from the academic, think tank and advocacy community. The goal of the task force was to examine the same set of issues given to the Select Committee, and to produce a report on their findings, along with their own recommendations for reform in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Dr. Eric Schickler, Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley and co-chair of the APSA Task Force on Congressional Reform, Dr. Ruth Bloch Rubin, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago and member of the Congressional Capacity Subcommittee on the APSA Task Force, and Dr. Michael D. Minta, Associate Professor in Political Science at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities joined the Members to share their findings from the APSA Task Force, their research on congressional capacity, operations and staffing, and the recommendations their Task Force drafted.

“While (the Task Force) were able to reach consensus on recommendations to improve staff retention and diversity, and to boost capacity, other topics were way more difficult to address. Predictably, issues like the congressional calendar and the appropriate balance of power between leaders, committee chairs, and individual members proved challenging,” said Chair Derek Kilmer (D-WA). “But just because reaching consensus on complicated issues is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the hard conversations.”

“Our committee has worked effectively and efficiently to improve the institution so it works better for the American people,” said Vice Chair Tom Graves (R-GA). “As we’re approaching the end of our work and look to leave everything out on the field, we need to hear what you recommended during your process.”

 

The Modernization Committee's hosts a virtual member discussion with American Political Science Association Task Force 

You can view today’s conversation here.

 

“The schedule limits opportunities for close relationships and interactions among Members. With so many in Members in Washington just three nights per week, there’s a lot of concern that the kinds of relationships, especially those across the aisle that might help find compromises and legislate, are being limited,” said Dr. Schickler in his opening remarks.

Dr. Bloch Rubin highlighted a number of the Task Force’s recommendations to improve congressional capacity by investing more in staff, saying “Across a range of issues, there’s concern that Congress lacks sufficient expertise to compete on equal footing with the Executive Branch or outside interests, or engage in meaningful policy innovation. As detailed in the report, the number of staff employed by Congress has declined significantly over the last several decades, at the same time the challenges of government have only grown.”

“As you know, Members of Congress have so many issues to deal with and you have limed time. So it would be nice if there’s an issue pops up where someone with a diverse background, they might know about it and they might have a larger network, or they know what experts to reach out to. And that helps Members of Congress make better decisions…it’s about bringing in those perspectives to help solve problems,” said Dr. Minta when asked about the importance of hiring a diverse staff.

This was the fifth virtual discussion held by the Select Committee. Since the U.S. Capitol closed to public visitors and guests, and the majority of congressional offices moved to a modified telework operating status, the Select Committee has continued to hold Member-level discussions on committee priorities and ways to continue effectively working ahead of the October 30, 2020 committee report deadline. You can view those discussions here