Modernization Committee tracks its own progress as clock keeps ticking

More than 60 percent of recommendations it made last Congress have been acted upon, according to new report

From the very beginning, the House Modernization panel has tried to do things differently as it tries to cure what ails the legislative branch, says Chairman Derek Kilmer. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
From the very beginning, the House Modernization panel has tried to do things differently as it tries to cure what ails the legislative branch, says Chairman Derek Kilmer. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 28, 2021 at 6:31am

The House Modernization of Congress Committee wants to make sure its recommendations don’t end up like some of its predecessors’ did — collecting dust on a shelf.

The panel released its latest progress report Thursday, tracking the 97 recommendations it made last Congress and whether they’ve gone anywhere. More than 60 percent of them have, the report says.

From the very beginning, the panel has tried to do things differently as it tries to cure what ails the legislative branch, said Chairman Derek Kilmer.

“We decided to do rolling recommendations so that when we got agreement as a committee, we would pass them,” the Washington Democrat said. “Then we would focus energy on trying to get them implemented.”

Just 20 of those proposals have been fully implemented. Two of the most recent wins came in August, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House would raise the maximum pay rate for staff, decoupling it from lawmaker pay caps, and when the Chief Administrative Office launched a centralized human resources hub.

Meanwhile, 13 proposals are “nearing full implementation,” and another 30 have seen other kinds of “meaningful action,” according to the report.

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Unlike standing committees, Kilmer’s does not have the authority to move legislation, so this audit is one way to keep track of how reform ideas have entered the congressional zeitgeist. 

Good-governance advocates had long sought the staffer pay change that came this summer, as Pelosi said she would raise the maximum salary above the $174,000 that members earn. Now the cap for aides is $199,300, part of an effort to slow a Capitol Hill brain drain caused by relatively low pay for top staffers. 

As appropriators work toward a fiscal 2022 spending deal, the panel is also celebrating the return of earmarks — or, as the term now goes, “community project funding.” Kilmer says he’s satisfied with the updates to that grand old tradition, like posting the requests to a website before they make their way into a final piece of legislation.   

“Chairwoman DeLauro, to her credit, said let’s not just do things the way it used to be. Let’s actually try to do it in a reformed way that has more accountability and more transparency,” Kilmer said of House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro.

As the Modernization Committee seeks to get more of its recommendations enacted, it won’t stop making new ones either — at least not until the clock runs out on its tenure at the end of the current Congress. Boosting civility among lawmakers is one of its more amorphous missions, and a series of recent hearings has aimed to translate that into concrete proposals. 

Vice Chairman William Timmons said he believes the committee will also put some energy into devising ways to free up the calendar for lawmakers so they don’t spend so many days traveling to and from Washington. 

And while improving relationships in Congress may sound like a daunting task, it could start with something as simple as encouraging people to have dinner together. 

“If any committee or any group of people that are focused on an issue, or any group of people that just want to break bread together, can easily sit down and have conversations about the important work that we do, that’s how we’re going to fix these problems,” he said.