The Congressional Management Foundation and the Partnership for Public Service released the first annual assessment of congressional performance by a cohort of more than 100 senior and exceptional congressional staff. The research reveals these staffers have deep concerns about important aspects of congressional civility, functionality, and capacity. State of the Congress 2022 is available at: https://ourpublicservice.org/publications/state-of-the-congress-2022/.
"Legislatures are the glue that holds democratic societies together," the report reads. "The United States Congress should be the bulwark against the forces that seek to tear democracy apart through division, violence, misinformation, and hate. Congress should be a place where people throughout the country are represented through difficult conversations and problem-solving that leads to the greatest good."
State of the Congress 2022 reveals bipartisan agreement that Congress needs to improve to best perform its role in democracy. It provides an assessment of congressional performance by the people who know the institution best: congressional staff. The Exemplary Congressional Staff Cohort – or "Congressional Exemplars" – were recommended by former staff and direct experience of the report's authors. The Congressional Exemplars work in personal, committee, leadership, and institutional support offices throughout the Legislative Branch. Two-thirds have worked in Congress for more than 10 years, most are senior managers, and all have demonstrated a deep commitment to the institution of Congress.b
During the past two decades, organizations that monitor and support legislatures throughout the world have turned considerable attention to developing benchmarks and frameworks for assessing the democratic performance of these institutions. In 2017, CMF began to use this body of work to produce the report State of the Congress: Staff Perspectives on Institutional Capacity in the House and Senate. Now, CMF and the Partnership have expanded the State of the Congress research to include functionality and civility of the institution.
- There is a great deal of bipartisan, bicameral agreement on many of the challenges facing Congress. The key findings from the research are:Congress is not functioning as it should. When asked if they agree with the statement, "Congress currently functions as a democratic legislature should," only 24% agreed and 76% disagreed. Party affiliation had some bearing on the response: More than three-quarters (80%) who work for Democrats and more than two-thirds (68%) who work for Republicans disagreed.
- Polarization and rhetoric are making it more difficult to get things done in Congress. Two-thirds (66%) who work for Democrats and more than half (54%) who work for Republicans "strongly agree" that otherwise non-controversial legislative ideas have failed due to polarization among Members. And an almost equal number of Democrats (66%) and Republicans (70%) "strongly agree" that congressional leadership should enforce the rules and norms of civility and decorum.
- Members' primary role is solving constituents' problems. About half of the Congressional Exemplars who work for Democrats (47%) and Republicans (52%) identified "solving constituents' problems" as Senators' and Representatives' most important role. They were generally more satisfied with aspects of public engagement and accountability than with most other aspects of congressional functionality and capacity.
- It is very important for Members and staffers to be civil and to work across party lines. More than three-quarters (77%) said it was "very important" to encourage civility and more than half (59%) said it was "very important" to encourage bipartisanship among Senators and Representatives, but only 1% were "very satisfied" with the current state of either. Importantly, a near-equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans shared this viewpoint.
- Congressional Exemplars suggest areas where there is clear opportunity for improvement. When asked about the importance of certain reforms recommended by the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, four rose to the top as being "very important" to the Congressional Exemplars: reclaiming Congress' constitutionally-defined duties (74%); improving staff recruitment, diversity, retention, compensation, and benefits (69%); reforming the budget and appropriations process (61%); and ensuring continuity of congressional operations in emergencies (61%).
- Improvement in Congress will likely require building capacity and infrastructure. More than three-quarters (80%) of the Congressional Exemplars said it was "very important" that Congress have adequate capacity and support to perform its role in American democracy and almost as many (74%) said it was "very important" that Congress' technological infrastructure is adequate to support Members' official duties. Yet only 5% were "very satisfied" with the current state of capacity and support and just 4% with the current technological infrastructure.
The Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) is a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan nonprofit whose mission is to build trust and effectiveness in Congress. Since 1977 CMF has worked internally with Member, committee, leadership, and institutional offices in the House and Senate to identify and disseminate best practices for management, workplace environment, communications, and constituent services. CMF also is the leading researcher and trainer on citizen engagement, educating thousands of individuals and facilitating better relationships with Congress.
During the past 20 years, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Partnership for Public Service has been dedicated to building a better government and a stronger democracy. We work across administrations to help transform the way government works by providing agencies with the data insights they need to succeed, developing effective leaders, inspiring the next generation to public service, facilitating smooth presidential transitions and recognizing exceptional federal employees. Visit ourpublicservice.org, follow us @PublicService and subscribe today to get the latest federal news, information on upcoming Partnership programs and events, and more.
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Thursday, July 7, 2022
The State of Congress
Congressional Management Foundation and the Partnership for Public Service