Censure and Condemnation, and More from CRS

Between 1973 and 2016, Members of Congress introduced resolutions of censure directed against federal officials on 59 occasions, according to the Congressional Research Service. Of those, 14 were filed against the Obama Administration.

Such resolutions have little or no practical significance, though they may serve a limited political purpose.

“The adoption of a simple or concurrent resolution expressing the House’s or Senate’s ‘censure,’ ‘condemnation,’ or ‘no confidence’ in a particular officer of the federal government does not have any immediate or binding legal import, but does express a particular moral judgment and may have both symbolic as well as political implications,” the CRS report said. See Congressional Censure and “No Confidence” Votes Regarding Public Officials, June 23, 2016.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

The European Union: Current Challenges and Future Prospects, updated June 21, 2016 (pre-Brexit)

Does Foreign Aid Work? Efforts to Evaluate U.S. Foreign Assistance, updated June 23, 2016

Salaries of Members of Congress: Recent Actions and Historical Tables, udpated June 21, 2016

Salaries of Members of Congress: Congressional Votes, 1990-2016, updated June 21, 2016

The State of Campaign Finance Policy: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress, updated June 23, 2016

U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production in Federal and Non-Federal Areas, updated June 23, 2016

Trade-Based Money Laundering: Overview and Policy Issues, June 22, 2016

Mileage-Based Road User Charges, June 22, 2016

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP): History and Overview, updated June 22, 2016

Statements of Administration Policy, June 21, 2016

Foreign Aid: An Introduction, and More from CRS

U.S. aid to foreign countries and populations takes many forms in support of a range of objectives, from strategic to humanitarian. A newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service illuminates the structure of U.S. foreign aid, and traces the evolution of U.S. spending abroad.

“Adjusted for inflation, annual foreign assistance funding over the past decade was the highest it has been since the Marshall Plan in the years immediately following World War II,” CRS reported.

“Aid objectives include promoting economic growth and reducing poverty, improving governance, addressing population growth, expanding access to basic education and health care, protecting the environment, promoting stability in conflictive regions, protecting human rights, promoting trade, curbing weapons proliferation, strengthening allies, and addressing drug production and trafficking.”

The CRS report provides authoritative data on (or reliable estimates of) foreign aid over time. “Data presented in the report are the most current, consistent, and reliable figures available, usually covering the period through FY2015.” One thing the report does not do is attempt to assess the efficacy of U.S. foreign aid in meeting its declared objectives. (Update: For a CRS report on evaluating foreign aid, see here.)

See Foreign Aid: An Introduction to U.S. Programs and Policy, updated June 17, 2016.

Other new or updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

The United Kingdom and the European Union: Stay or Go?, CRS Insight, updated June 20, 2016

The First Responder Network (FirstNet) and Next-Generation Communications for Public Safety: Issues for Congress, updated June 17, 2016

China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress, updated June 17, 2016

Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, updated June 17, 2016

State Sponsors of Acts of International Terrorism–Legislative Parameters: In Brief, updated June 17, 2016

FY2017 Defense Appropriations Fact Sheet: Selected Highlights of H.R. 5293 and S. 3000, June 17, 2016

What’s RICO?, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 20, 2016

Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) FY2017 Appropriations: Overview, June 20, 2016

Spending and Tax Expenditures: Distinctions and Major Programs, June 17, 2016

The Appointment Process for U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: An Overview, updated June 17, 2016

“The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people” who are incapable of understanding or defending their own interests, wrote Justice Louis D. Brandeis in a 1927 concurring opinion (in Whitney v. California).

For Brandeis, the antidote to such inertness is self-education, writes Jeffrey Rosen in his fine new book “Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet” (Yale University Press, 2016).

Brandeis “believed passionately that citizens have a duty to educate themselves so that they are capable of self-government, both personal and political, and of defending their liberties against overreaching corporate and federal power,” Rosen writes.

There are many ways for individuals to pursue such self-education. But on matters of public policy, CRS reports are particularly helpful because of their painstakingly non-partisan character and their often rich factual content.

The longstanding dispute over whether Congress should authorize direct public access to CRS reports was reported most recently in “Should Congressional Research Service Reports Be Kept Secret?” by Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, June 20.

Growing District Court Vacancies, and More from CRS

The number of vacancies in U.S. district courts around the country increased by a hefty 71% from the beginning of the Obama Administration (when there were 41 vacancies) until June 1 of the Administration’s eighth year (when there were 70 vacancies), according to a new analysis from the Congressional Research Service.

By contrast, the number of district court vacancies decreased in both the GW Bush and Clinton Administrations during comparable periods, CRS found. See U.S. District Court Vacancies: Overview and Comparative Analysis, CRS Insight, June 15, 2016.

However, the number of circuit court vacancies during the Obama Administration did decrease from 13 in January 2009 to 9 in June 2016, a separate CRS analysis found. See U.S. Circuit Court Vacancies: Overview and Comparative Analysis, CRS Insight, June 15, 2016.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service last week include the following.

The governor of Florida asked President Obama to declare an emergency under the Stafford Act in response to the June 12 Orlando shooting. “The governor’s request is the first instance of [such] a request being made for a mass shooting event,” CRS said. See Stafford Act Assistance and Acts of Terrorism, CRS Insight, June 15, 2016.

Orlando Nightclub Mass Shooting: Gun Checks and Terrorist Watchlists, CRS Insight, June 16, 2016

Declining Dynamism in the U.S. Labor Market, CRS Insight, June 15, 2016

North American Leaders’ Summit, CRS Insight, June 16, 2016

Judiciary Appropriations, FY2017, June 16, 2016

Trends in Child Care Spending from the CCDF and TANF, June 16, 2016

1st Circuit Green Lights Suit against Mobile App for Violating Video Privacy Law, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 16, 2016

Energy Tax Policy: Issues in the 114th Congress, updated June 15, 2016

Navy Ship Names: Background for Congress, updated June 16, 2016

Islamic State Acolytes, and More from CRS

Domestic supporters of the Islamic State “have accounted for 67 homegrown violent jihadist plots between 2014 and early June 2016” involving more than 100 individuals, according to a new analysis from the Congressional Research Service.

“In November 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly had more than 900 investigations of IS suspects in the United States.” See The Islamic State’s Acolytes and the Challenges They Pose to U.S. Law Enforcement, June 13, 2016.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Sifting Domestic Terrorism from Hate Crime and Homegrown Violent Extremism, CRS Insight, updated June 13, 2016

The Islamic State and U.S. Policy, updated June 14, 2016

When Are Violent Crimes Federal Hate Crimes?, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 14, 2016

Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)/Frigate Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated June 14, 2016

A Patent/Innovation Box as a Tax Incentive for Domestic Research and Development, June 13, 2016

Runaway and Homeless Youth: Demographics and Programs, updated June 13, 2016

Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons, updated June 14, 2016

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status, updated June 13, 2016

Funding Overseas Contingency Ops, and More from CRS

The use of the “overseas contingency operations” budget construct to circumvent limits on discretionary spending was examined in a report from the Congressional Research Service published yesterday.

“Some DOD officials argue that this funding approach is essential to enable a timely military response to a dynamic enemy operating in a complex battlespace,” the CRS report said. “Critics however, have described the DOD’s continued use of the OCO/GWOT account as creating a ‘slush fund’ for military spending.” See Overseas Contingency Operations Funding: Background and Status, June 13, 2016.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Athletic Footwear for the Military: The Berry Amendment Controversy, CRS Insight, June 10, 2016

The Open Skies Treaty: Issues in the Current Debate, CRS Insight, June 10, 2016

FY2017 Appropriations for the Department of Justice, updated June 9, 2016

Membership of the 114th Congress: A Profile, updated June 10, 2016

Mass Shootings and Terrorism: CRS Products, June 13, 2016

Social Media in Congress, and More from CRS

“In less than 20 years, the entire nature of Member-constituent communication has been transformed, perhaps more than in any other period in American history,” observes a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

Congressional offices now receive hundreds of millions of electronic communications from constituents each year, vastly more than they ever did using postal mail or other traditional forms of messaging. One result is a change in “the nature of [political] representation in the United States, as Members can more easily engage wider political and policy constituencies, in addition to their core interactions with their geographic constituencies,” CRS said.

See Social Media in Congress: The Impact of Electronic Media on Member Communications, May 26, 2016.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Security Assistance and Cooperation: Shared Responsibility of the Departments of State and Defense, updated May 26, 2016

TPP Financial Services Data Flows, CRS Insight, June 3, 2016

India-U.S. Relations and the Visit of Prime Minister Modi, CRS Insight, June 6, 2016

FinCEN Seeks Shell-Company Transparency, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 7, 2016

A Retrospective of House Rules Changes Since the 110th Congress, updated June 7, 2016

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), updated June 6, 2016

Financial Aid for Students: Online Resources, updated June 3, 2016

Federal Inspectors General: History, Characteristics, and Recent Congressional Actions, updated June 2, 2016

Congress is poised to reject the budget request sought by the Congressional Research Service for the coming fiscal year, with foreseeable consequences.

“What would be the consequences of a flat budget?” asked CRS director Dr. Mary Mazanec at a March 1 hearing of the House Appropriations Committee.  “If CRS capacities are not maintained, gap areas will intensify. Right now we have a gap due to an unanticipated departure in Russian and Ukrainian foreign policy. In these areas, as gaps develop, we cannot always immediately backfill, which means it becomes a challenge for us to produce the highly analytical, nuanced work that you expect of us.”

“I can almost state with 100 percent assurance that timelines will increase, especially in the areas that are high volume: education, health care, defense, appropriations, and budget. Analysts will be challenged to update and maintain the currency of their reports.”

“And finally, one more thing. I don’t think we will be able to effectively leverage the vast amount of data that is currently being collected to better inform the work that you expect of us,” Dr. Mazanec testified.

DoD’s Rotation to the Philippines, and More from CRS

“On March 18, 2016, the United States and the Republic of the Philippines announced the selection of five military sites that will host a rotation of U.S. military units. This marks the first time that U.S. units will be welcomed by the Republic on regularly scheduled visits since the last permanent garrisons were withdrawn in 1992,” according to a new brief from the Congressional Research Service. For background on the move, see DOD’s Rotation to the Philippines, CRS Insight, May 31, 2016.

Other new or newly updated CRS reports include the following.

A Shift in the International Security Environment: Potential Implications for Defense–Issues for Congress, updated May 31, 2016

Intellectual Property Rights Violations: Federal Civil Remedies and Criminal Penalties Related to Copyrights, Trademarks, Patents, and Trade Secrets, updated May 27, 2016

An Overview of Air Quality Issues in Natural Gas Systems, updated June 1, 2016

Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 31, 2016

Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 27, 2016

Constitutional Limits to Agency Independence, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 1, 2016

Congress Isn’t Helping to “Rebuild” CRS

Most public controversy concerning the Congressional Research Service revolves around the question of whether Congress should authorize CRS to make its reports publicly available, or whether unauthorized access to CRS reports is a satisfactory alternative.

But a more urgent question is whether CRS itself will survive as a center of intellectual and analytical vitality. Already many of its most deeply knowledgeable and experienced specialists have been lost to retirement or attrition. And recurring budget shortfalls are taking a toll, say congressional supporters.

“According to CRS, recent funding levels have led to a loss of 13 percent of its purchasing power since 2010. The $1 million increase [proposed in the House version of the FY2017 Legislative Appropriations Act] will not even cover mandatory pay for CRS’ current staff,” wrote Reps. Nita Lowey and Debbie Wasserman Schultz in dissenting views attached to the House Appropriations Committee report on the FY 2017 bill.

“CRS’s [FY2017] budget request sought to rebuild the agency. They asked for two defense policy staff, five health policy staff, three education policy staff, two budget/appropriations staff, four technology policy staff, and two data management and analysis staff. None of those staff would be funded under the current bill, depriving Congress of a non-biased analysis of these critical policy areas,” Reps. Lowey and Wasserman Schultz wrote.

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service last week included the following.

OSHA Rule Makes Workplace Injury and Illness Data Publicly Available, CRS Legal Sidebar, May 25, 2016

Status of the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa: Overview and Issues for Congress, May 25, 2016

Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 25, 2016

Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 26, 2016

Fact Sheet: FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) DOD Reform Proposals, May 25, 2016

Navy Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism Operations: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 25, 2016

Taliban Leadership Succession, CRS Insight, May 26, 2016

Who is a “Veteran”? — Basic Eligibility for Veterans’ Benefits, updated May 25, 2016

Military Funeral Honors for Veterans, May 25, 2016

Federal Prison Population Buildup, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made publicly available online include the following.

The Federal Prison Population Buildup: Options for Congress, May 20, 2016

Zika Response Funding: Request and Congressional Action, May 20, 2016

Pay Equity: Legislative and Legal Developments, May 20, 2016

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (S. 524): Comparison of Senate- and House-Passed Versions, May 23, 2016

FHFA’s Administrative Reform of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Housing Finance System, May 23, 2016

DOT’s Federal Pipeline Safety Program: Background and Key Issues for Congress, May 20, 2016

Treasury Issues White Paper on Fintech and Marketplace Lending, CRS Insight, May 20, 2016

United States Lifts Remaining Restrictions on Arms Sales to Vietnam, CRS Insight, May 23, 2016

U.S.-Vietnam Economic and Trade Relations: Issues for the 114th Congress, May 20, 2016

Honduras: Background and U.S. Relations, May 23, 2016

A Resurgence of Unaccompanied Alien Children?, CRS Insight, May 20, 2016

Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, May 23, 2016

Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, May 20, 2016

Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress, May 20, 2016

Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)/Frigate Program: Background and Issues for Congress, May 20, 2016

Navy Ohio Replacement (SSBN[X]) Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress, May 20, 2016

The RICO Statutes, and More from CRS

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee rejected two amendments to improve authorized public access to reports of the Congressional Research Service. However, unauthorized public access remains robust.

The latest Congressional Research Service reports include the following.

RICO: A Brief Sketch, May 18, 2016

Federal Reserve: Legislation in the 114th Congress, May 19, 2016

U.S.-EU Data Privacy: From Safe Harbor to Privacy Shield, May 19, 2016

Earthquake Risk and U.S. Highway Infrastructure: Frequently Asked Questions, May 19, 2016

Framing Spectrum Policy: Legislative Initiatives, May 18, 2016

The EMV Chip Card Transition: Background, Status, and Issues for Congress, May 17, 2016

Abortion and Family Planning-Related Provisions in U.S. Foreign Assistance Law and Policy, May 17, 2016

Federal Student Aid: Need Analysis Formulas and Expected Family Contribution, May 18, 2016

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Five-Year Program for Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing: History and Proposed Program for 2017-2022, May 18, 2016

Public Health Service Agencies: Overview and Funding (FY2015-FY2017), May 19, 2016

Waiting in Queue: Options for Addressing the Airport Screening Line Conundrum, CRS Insight, May 18, 2016.

Despite its recognition that CRS has provided “tremendous value” to Congress, the Senate Appropriations Committee rejected a proposed $7.4 million increase in the CRS budget for 2017.

“While the increase requested in fiscal year 2017 includes support for 22 additional full-time equivalents that purports to improve service to Congress, bringing on board new employees in the midst of this budget stagnation may not be a practical or cost-effective solution to optimize service,” the Committee wrote last week.

Instead of increased resources, the Senate Committee told CRS to tighten its belt.

“The Committee directs CRS to examine ways in which the internal structure of the organization may be improved to meet the challenges of the ever-changing Congressional environment and provide a report to the Committee on a proposed restructuring within 120 days of enactment of this act. The report should include recommended changes to staffing, pay levels, the management structure, technology, and research priorities in order to create and support the workflow, products, and services that best meet Congress’ needs.”