The House chief administrative officer struck an ominous tone in a staff meeting Wednesday, warning employees that Congress could eventually look to outsource many of their services to private sector vendors if they don’t step up and meet member demands.
In an all-hands meeting broadcast on YouTube, Philip Kiko focused on a set of recommendations approved by the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress last week and his appearance before that same committee on July 11, both of which yielded criticism of his office’s performance.
“But the select committee, representing the members of Congress at large, also made it clear that we haven’t met their expectations in keeping up with modern and innovative products and services,” Kiko said.
Setting up member offices for the 116th Congress was a primary issue that came up when Kiko testified before the panel. He said the office received a lot of negative feedback on the technological problems staff encountered, particularly in district offices.
The Chief Administrative Office supports House offices by providing a wide range of services including acquisitions management, accounting, website hosting and IT infrastructure.
Several recommendations issued by the modernization committee focused on improving House Information Resources, a CAO service that ensures the House community has secure access to the chamber’s network and software-related tools to do their jobs. These calls for action included a recommendation to overhaul the House Information Resources’ approval process for outside technology vendors.
“Many of these recommendations are focused on services that the CAO provides for members and staff. And fortunately, the select committee and the members are looking to us to solve the problem,” Kiko said. “They aren’t looking to outsource the services — yet.”
House leaders tasked the select committee with offering recommendations for rehabilitating Congress in technology and cybersecurity, procedures and scheduling, as well as improving staff retention and diversity. The panel doesn’t have the power to produce legislation.
Kiko suggested that if the office doesn’t meet member demands, opportunities could be lost to the private sector.
“Many of [the members] want to use the same services they use in the private sector,” he said.
John Clocker, the deputy chief administrative officer, reiterated that the CAO is competing against outside vendors.
“You have competitors,” he said. “They want to eat your lunch.”
Reached afterward for comment, CAO spokesman Kyle Anderson said the office is committed to improving its services and is aware of the potential competition.
“The Office of the CAO and every department and division under its jurisdiction, are strongly committed to being member focused and service driven,” Anderson said in an email. “While there are currently no plans to outsource services, we understand that members often have the option of pursuing alternatives to the ways in which they receive vital service. That reality, along with our unparalleled commitment to serving this institution helps to drive everything we do.”
Kate Ackley contributed to this report.