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Monday, May 15, 2017

Congress Needs More Staff

In Is Congress Broken? The Virtues and Defects of Partisanship and Gridlock, we make the case for improving the deliberative abilities of the legislative branch.
Daniel Stid’s chapter offers an ideal opening for our collection of essays, providing useful historical perspective. He argues that “we are not obliged to keep working against the grain of our longstanding constitutional arrangements.” Instead, he calls for revitalizing the reform tradition embodied in the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, designed to uphold Madison’s separation of powers, as an alternative to the Wilsonian perspective so popular among reformers for decades. Stid thinks we need to return to this alternative congressional reform tradition to restore Congress:
An institution so restored would be much better positioned to serve as the first branch of government, to retain and actively exercise rather than continue to cede its power and authority to the President, administrative agencies, and the courts . . . For this restoration to occur, Congress needs to take back the power of the purse and oversee the executive branch much more systematically and effectively. Th e frayed and tattered “regular order” needs to be reenvisioned and reestablished. But the imperatives of representative democracy over the next 50 years will mean that any functional order will work much differently than it did 50 years ago.
Stid laments the “big lobotomy” of congressional staff cuts, blaming Wilson’s preference for the unifying national executive versus the parochialism of Congress.
At R Street, Kevin Kosar writes:
Few legislators have any previous federal policy experience. Many have made their careers in business or law. Others worked as doctors, teachers, farmers, law-enforcement officers and ministers. Members of Congress are we the people, not an aristocratic caste of policy elites trained since birth to govern.
And there is the flip side of the coin: our federal government is immense. There are approximately 180 agencies through which flow $4 trillion per year of our tax dollars for innumerable programs and objectives (the U.S. Code volume of laws relating to agriculture policy alone runs 2,000 pages). There are nearly 180,000 pages of regulations, which inject government authority into nearly every facet of life. The government employs almost 4 million individuals, along with an untold number of contractors. (Some 710,000 work for the Department of Defense alone.) Tens of thousands of not-for-profits get federal grants to do things for the government, like combating opioid addiction.
Is it any wonder, then, that Congress often seems clueless and incapable of decision?
Our national legislature has made governing even more difficult by reducing its staff. The number of people who work for the congressional committees, the founts of public policy and government oversight, has gone down more than 25 percent the past four decades. The corps of civil-servant experts at the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also has declined. And the percentage of congressional staff who work in D.C. on policy has declined, as legislators have tasked more of their charges to work on constituents’ issues (like gripes about the IRS).