Tuesday, July 31, 2018

We Are All Americans … Right?


[Guest Contributor - Donald G. Mutersbaugh Sr.]
I remember growing up in a nation that, regardless of political affiliation, recognized the fact that we all loved our country and we all were Americans. There were basically two major parties, and all political discussion seemed to center around being either a Republican or Democrat in one’s affiliation and beliefs. Fast-forward to now: we are a mess. We have become very uncivilized in our discussions. It seems as if amplitude is the new supplement for beliefs that we hold; the louder we are, the more correct we must be. We have become very intolerant if anyone believes something that we don’t believe: the new negotiator is “It’s my way or the highway.”

This is further compounded by the fact that our country is under attack from within by the social and political mobilization of the younger generations by our schools and other liberal institutions which are generally controlled by leftist thinkers. For some reason everyone feels entitled; suddenly communism and socialism don’t look so bad – everybody should be treated fairly and equally regardless of contribution. Consider the following about “proud Americans”:
“Currently, 32% of Democrats -- down from 43% in 2017 and 56% in 2013 -- are extremely proud. The decline preceded the election of Donald Trump but has accelerated in the past year.
“Less than half of independents, 42%, are also extremely proud. That is down slightly from 48% a year ago, and 50% in 2013.
“As has typically been the case, Republicans are more inclined to say they are extremely proud to be Americans than are Democrats and independents. Seventy-four percent [74%] of Republicans are extremely proud, which is numerically the highest over the last five years.” https://news.gallup.com/poll/236420/record-low-extremely-proud-americans.aspx
We now have become such a fragmented nation with regard to the political process, that it is no longer a question of the left or the right; now it is the far, far left and the far, far right – and a whole lot of other positions in between. While I believe that this intolerance is more prevalent with the Democrats, communication requires both a sender and a receiver – and I really don’t believe that’s happening on either side. One of the biggest problems we have is we don’t have freedom of speech any longer. Why? Examples are political correctness, fear of offending somebody, and the need to interrupt someone else before they complete their thought – I don’t want to hear it!

The latest new weapon used by the liberals is to claim that they are a victim of something. It becomes a fight on the left to prove who has the greatest claim to victimhood. Interestingly enough, this seems to be pushing the left to becoming even further to the left and further away from Main Street thinking. Even worse, is the fact that if you disagree with any of this liberal thinking, you’re guilty of some form of discrimination or as yet to be named phobia.
Let’s sample some “un-American” activity starting with Maxine Waters. “A senior California Democratic lawmaker added some fresh fuel to the raging debate over civility in politics with a call for public confrontations with Trump administration officials.
‘If you think we're rallying now you ain't seen nothing yet,’ Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, told supporters at a rally in Los Angeles over the weekend. ‘If you see anybody from that (Trump) Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere.’ https://www.npr.org/2018/06/25/623206039/congressional-leaders-criticize-maxine-waters-for-urging-confrontation The Democrat’s mantra: Understanding, acceptance and tolerance. How about:
“[Sarah] Sanders was at the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington on Friday when the owner approached and asked Sanders to leave. The owner…told the Washington Post she believes Sanders works for an ‘inhumane and unethical’ administration.
“Sanders isn't the only Trump aide or ally to face critics in recent days. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was heckled at a movie theater in Tampa on Friday. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had to leave a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C., last week as hecklers protested the administration's immigration policy. Critics also rallied outside her Virginia home.” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/red-hen-restaurant-kicks-out-sarah-sanders-sparking-debate-about-confronting-trump-allies/
One other Democrat being touted by some as the future face of the Democratic Party, recently elected Ocasio-Cortez, is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Many members of the Democratic Party are being pulled further to the left towards socialism; what the Democrats haven’t figured out yet is that a substantial part of their voter base came from countries where this form of government failed – and they don’t want to go back to it. Check out her beliefs at https://www.dsausa.org/about_dsa .
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y says, “America is a place where we all come together. It is a place of consensus.” It would be nice if it were true. “Substantively Democrats are much closer to where the American people are than Republicans are.” https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/chuck_schumer Don’t think so. Consider:
“Most recently, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said that the ‘first thing’ Democrats should do if they take control back of the House and Senate is abolishing all immigration enforcement through disbanding ICE.” However, “Nobody wants ICE going away. That’s ridiculous,’ [Sarah] Chamberlain said. ‘That is our first line of security. So for the Democrats to be saying that … it’s not resonating back in our GOP districts.” https://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2018/07/24/exclusive-pollster-democrats-abolish-ice-campaign-not-resonating-in-swing-districts/
Why are we so uncivil? One reason is that the Democratic Party is spiraling out of control because of the Iron Law of Institutions:The Iron Law of Institutions is: the people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution "fail" while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to "succeed" if that requires them to lose power within the institution.” http://www.tinyrevolution.com/mt/archives/001705.html

Closely related to this is “The ongoing contest between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wings of the Democratic Party continues to divide Democrats. It’s urgent Democrats stop squabbling and recognize seven basic truths ….”https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/01/reich-7-hard-truths-democrats-future-bleak-without-radical-reforms.html Check the site out.
Trump won – get over it! Support the President who was duly and legally elected by the people of the United States of America. By continually trying to sabotage his agenda – and him personally – you are not doing a very good job of representing the people who elected him. MAGA! Be an American first and a Democrat second!

Donald G. Mutersbaugh, Sr. earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maryland and his Master of Business Administration degree from Mary Washington College. He is the former Associate Administrator of Information Resources for the U.S House of Representatives under Speaker Newt Gingrich.


Friday, July 20, 2018

TECHNOLOGY MATTERS


CONSTITUTING AMERICA” SERIES ON CONGRESSIONAL HISTORY

There are three ways Congress lives up to its mandate from the Founding Fathers – documenting their actions, recording their votes, and communicating with their constituents. Each method has changed as technology evolved. Each technological advance has expanded the availability of official records, and opened more avenues for communication and accountability.

America’s Founding Fathers understood the importance of communication and accountability between citizens and their elected representatives.
Even before the U.S. Constitution, the Continental Congress approved provisions for communicating with citizens, and assuring citizen accountability through knowledge of the actions of their elected representatives.

Articles of Confederation.
“…and shall publish the Journal of their proceedings monthly, except such parts thereof relating to treaties, alliances or military operations, as in their judgment require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the delegates of each state on any question shall be entered on the Journal, when it is desired by any delegate; and the delegates of a state, or any of them, at his or their request shall be furnished with a transcript of the said Journal, except such parts as are above excepted, to lay before the legislatures of the several states.”

James Wilson, a member of the Committee on Detail which compiled the provisions of the draft U.S. Constitution, was a follower of the great British parliamentary scholar Sir William Blackstone. He quoted Blackstone’s Oxford 1756 lectures, which underscored the importance of a public record for holding officials accountable, “In the House of Commons, the conduct of every member is subject to the future censure of his constituents, and therefore should be openly submitted to their inspection.”

The U.S. Constitution mandates open communication and documentation.

Article 1, Section 5, Clause 3
Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal. 

During its ratification, the importance of citizens interacting with their elected representatives was institutionalized in the Bill of Rights.

Amendment 1

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made communication between citizens and their elected representatives fundamental to the integrity of representative Democracy.


Federalist No. 56
February 19, 1788

It is a sound and important principle that the representative ought to be acquainted with the interests and circumstances of his constituents.

Every day the Congress approves the “Journal” of the previous session. This is the official outline of actions taken during the previous meeting of each Chamber, like a set of minutes. It is codified in Section 49 of Thomas Jefferson’s 1812 Parliamentary Manual that governs Congressional operations.

Staff of the House Clerk’s Office, and the Secretary of the Senate physically write, and now type, every word said during Congressional sessions. These are transcribed and printed in the Congressional Record. Printed daily editions of the Congressional Record were distributed to Legislative Offices. A very limited number of copies were also available through those offices to the public.

This changed in January 1995, when the Library of Congress made digital copies of the Congressional Record available on its website. Continuous improvements now allow for user friendly search of the Record and all legislation, by anyone on the web, anytime, anywhere.

The Congressional Record remains the official transcript of proceedings. Since March 19, 1979 in the House and June 2, 1986 in the Senate, the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN), a nonprofit private entity, provides live coverage of each Chamber. The cameras are owned and maintained by the Architect of the Capitol, while their operations and broadcasts are operated by staffs of the Chief Administrative Officer in the House and the Secretary of the Senate. C-SPAN receives the signal and airs it on its various cable television channels.

Live television fundamentally expanded the Congressional audience. Instead of the small public viewing galleries, anyone can now watch what happens instead of reading about it. Archived videos of each session can be accessed 24-7 on C-SPAN’s website.

Starting in 2007, every public hearing in the House is broadcast live, and archived as podcasts on each Committee’s website. The Senate only provides the traditional list of witnesses and publishes opening statements.

For over 184 years Congress used voice voting. The process of calling each Member’s name remains the Senate’s format. The House started using an electronic voting system on January 23, 1973. This reduced voting time from 45 minutes or more to 15 minutes. Clustering votes on noncontroversial bills, under “Suspension of the Rules”, can reduce vote times to five minutes. This saves as much as 400 hours a year in vote and “quorum call” time and provides immediate documentation of how each Member votes.

Everyday, citizens learn about the actions of the Legislative Branch through a free and vibrant news media and through direct communication with their elected representatives. Credentialing and supporting journalists covering Congress began in 1838. Today, the media galleries, operated by the House CAO and Secretary of the Senate, but managed by the media themselves, credentials over 6,000 correspondents from around the world.

Up until 1995, Members responded to their constituents requests and comments using paper, just like public officials had done for centuries. Handwriting gave way to typewrites, which evolved into word processors.

That all changed in 1995. Dramatic operational savings, achieved from strategic reforms in the House, gave Speaker Newt Gingrich the ability to invest in the CyberCongress. Former executives from IBM and other technology companies were recruited by the Chief Administrative Officer. They designed and implemented the most dramatic technology revolution in Congressional history. This giant leap took House communications from the 18th Century into the 21st in one giant leap.

The epic leap changed the layout of Capitol Hill and the culture of Congress forever.

  • Five miles of fiber optics and thirty miles of T-1 lines, with all servers and switches installed through the Capitol Building and all five House office buildings and annexes.
  • A Pentium computer in each Member, committee, and leadership office. This allowed for paperless transactions from "Dear Colleague" letters, to Whip operations, to financial record keeping, purchasing, and work orders.
  • Uniform service contracts, equipment, training, and support to immediately make the entire system immediately operational.
  • Moving all operational documents and databases onto a compatible digital database.
  • A distributed architecture of secure servers, with sufficient firewalls to allow for Internet access, LAN, and intranet operations even to district offices, without fear of hacking or other security breaches.
  • A unified email system.
  • Enough server power and memory to support a 310 percent increase in electronic-based communications in the House in the first year, and doubling each year for ten years.
  • A decision support center allowing for virtual caucuses, virtual committee meetings, and strategic planning meetings accessing distant users.
  • Placing all Member support services online. This included all financial data, human resource data, and personal property inventory data being available electronically. It also
    allowed for desktop procurement and other forms of electronic commerce.

The CyberCongress took only ten months to be fully operational and came in under budget.

Today, Members and their staffs handle all constituent communication and case work over the web. Members have also become very savvy regarding social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and countless Apps, generate virtual and real engagement on a vast scale. Survey Monkey, Periscope, and other videos Apps, have reinvented the concept of town meetings.


Early on, some Members were terrified of Congress embracing the Information Age. “I don’t want to be talking to my constituents all the time, I want to get real work done” groused one senior Member.

Thankfully, even the doubters have now realized that representative democracy must move with the times.

[Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He served as the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He also served on the White House Staff, and as an Executive Branch Appointee.]

Sunday, July 1, 2018

COMMITTEES MATTER


CONSTITUTING AMERICA” SERIES ON CONGRESSIONAL HISTORY

Since the Roman Senate, there has always been a need for a smaller group of Members to focus on details before actions are considered by the entire assembly. This is a better use of time, as Members are not equally interested or versed in every topic under consideration.

Committees to support the legislative process in America’s colonies started in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1642.

The drafting of America’s Declaration of Independence was the act of a committee.

On May 15, 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously passed a resolution calling on all thirteen colonies to form governments representing colonial interests independent of the British Crown. Congress then authorized the drafting of preamble explaining the reasons for and purposes of this action. On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a “Committee of Five” to draft this “declaration”. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman were appointed.

The work of the “Committee of Five” was presented to the Congress on June 28 and, after spirited debate, was adopted on July 2, 1776. The approved Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.
After the Revolutionary War, and the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, newly elected Senators and Representatives quickly formed committees to support their legislative duties.
On April 2, 1789, the first House committee was established to “prepare and report” on rules and procedures.
On April 7, 1789, the first Senate committee was formed to establish rules of procedure. By 1816 the Senate had eleven standing committees, many of which operate to this day.
The formation of the House committee on Ways and Means, on July 24, 1789, marked Congress’ implementation of its most important relationship with the Executive Branch.
No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”
- U.S. Constitution; Article 1; Section 9
The “Consequences of Appropriations” is how representative government holds the Executive Branch in check. In the earliest days of the United States, unelected functionaries, all owing their positions to political patronage, had to be held accountable to Americans. Only through elected Senators and Representatives in “oversight” hearings could these public officials be reminded that their loyalty was to the law and Americans citizens, not just to the President.
Congressional Hearings are conducted to put actions and information on the public record.
Senators and Representatives use hearings to expand from focusing on legislative details to exposing and communicating facts.
Ideally, a Congressional hearing is well-scripted theater. Executive Branch officials work with Committee staff to prepare for publicly sharing information. When the hearing convenes, everyone knows their role. Witness testimony, followed by questions and answers, clarify intent of laws, explain programmatic and policy matters, and explore solutions. The outcome is action that supports passage of legislation or funding for government operations.
Majority and minority members of the Committee have equal time to speak and pose questions to witnesses. Depending on the issue, non-government experts, and at times, average citizens, may be witnesses, sharing their insights and experiences to illuminate the impacts of a given issue.
As government expanded, Congress needed help with its oversight. In 1921, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) was formed. It was later renamed the Government Accountability Office, using the same acronym – GAO.
The GAO’s accounting and management experts review how Americans’ tax dollars are spend, or misspent. Every year hundreds of investigative reports, filled with hundreds of recommendations are sent to the Congress. These reports support oversight hearings where Congressional committees hold public officials accountable and launch legislative efforts to curb abuse and facilitate efficiency.
That is how it is supposed to have worked.
Unfortunately, most Senate and House members find government oversight “boring”. Unless there is a headline-grabbing scandal, few news outlets cover improper payments, operational duplication, or mismanagement leading to wasteful spending.
This is unfortunate. In 2017, implementing just 52% of the 724 GAO management recommendations saved taxpayers $178 billion. During the final years of the Obama Administration, only 29% of the GAO’s recommendations were implemented.
Annually, the GAO, and the 73 independent Inspectors General within the Executive Branch, publish over 8,000 reports identifying approximately $650 billion in waste.

In the past, Appropriations Committees met to build the case for spending public funds. Administration witnesses made their case for spending. Appropriation Committee Members made their alternative case, opposing or supporting what the Administration witnesses proposed. Oversight reports and hearings guided spending and reforms.

What should occur is a dialogue designed to align Congressional intent, and Executive Branch actions. Representative government is fundamental to validating public spending.

What should emerge is legislation filled with spending numbers. Supporting these numbers should be a narrative, in the public hearing record and committee reports, building a compelling case for how and why public finds are being spent, or not spent.

None of this happen anymore. Few, if any Appropriation bills pass. Concurrent Resolutions or Omnibus spending bills are generated at the last moment to meet spending deadlines. Political expediency, not representative government, drives the legislation.

In 2015, there were 128 House Appropriation hearings prior to marking-up legislation. In 2016 there were only 88. The House listened to 253 Administration witnesses, but only seven of the 73 Inspector Generals. No one from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was involved. No one from private oversight groups, documenting government waste and abuse, were heard.

It gets worse. In the 1980s and 1990s, Appropriation hearings lasted three or more hours. Hearings in 2016 averaged 77 minutes. When you factor in the opening remarks from the Chair and Ranking Member and the opening statement of the main witness, less than 25 minutes were devoted to questioning witnesses at each hearing. Very few Members attend or participate.

House Committees broadcast their hearings online and archive them as podcasts. None of the 47 Senate Appropriation hearings were broadcast or archived. The public only knows that three Inspector Generals appeared, and there was no one from the GAO or government watchdog groups. The public remains uninformed as to what 121 Senate witnesses had to say beyond the text of their prepared remarks. Senators’ questions are also a mystery.

Congressional hearings, the embodiment of representative government, are deteriorating. This undermines the carefully crafted balancing of powers in the U.S. Constitution.

Representative government means its elected officials must do their duty. Even “boring” management oversight is important, especially to taxpayers concerned about how their hard earned money is spent.

[Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He served as the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He also served on the White House Staff, and as an Executive Branch Appointee.]


Saturday, June 23, 2018

STAFF MATTERS

[Staff of Rep. Arlen Stangeland (R-MN) 1978.  Scot Faulkner is 5th from left]

"CONSTITUTING AMERICA" SERIES ON CONGRESSIONAL HISTORY

A bill becomes a law only through collaboration, communication, and teamwork.

Members of Congress are pulled in many directions. Members must be Members, which means they attend hearings, participate in legislation via debate and voting, and communicate with their constituents. Members, who want to remain Members, must be perpetual candidates, which means raising funds, working with their campaign team, involving themselves with national, state, and local officials within their political party, and engaging organized special interests that provide funds, endorsements, and resources. Members are increasingly Ambassadors to a sprawling government, meaning their offices are “embassies” representing the interests of their constituents to federal officials and guiding their constituents through the federal labyrinth to obtain government benefits, regulatory relief, and due process.

No one person can handle all these roles. That is why Congressional Staff exist.

Members during the first seventy years under the U.S. Constitution, performed their diverse duties themselves. The Federal government was small and legislative sessions were short.

Just before the American Civil War, the size, scope, and complexity of the Federal Government had grown to a point where full time staff began supporting Members. The first staff were attached to major committees. Many of these were clerical staff to take notes and help draft legislation. Even during the busy period of Post-Civil War Reconstruction and Westward expansion, such as 1867, the Congress only passed 30 bills and 41 resolutions a year.

By the end of the 19th Century Congress had only 146 staff members: 37 Senate personal staff, 39 Senate committee staff, and 62 House committee staff (37 of whom only worked during congressional sessions). In 1893, the House approved the first personal staff for its Members.

The Populist and Progressive movements ignited government regulation of America’s burgeoning economy. New federal agencies meant dramatic increases in spending and the need for vigorous Congressional oversight of Executive Branch activities.

Except for limiting government during the Administration of President Calvin Coolidge, the role, scope, and size of the federal activities grew rapidly and never stopped. Congress introduced, considered, and passed more and more laws facilitating this expansion. By the early 1970s over 26,000 legislative bills and resolutions were being introduced during each two-year Congress.

Congressional staff expanded to support Members. Members, torn by their multiple responsibilities, deferred increasingly to their staffs.

Today, approximately 14,000 employees work on House and Senate leadership, committee, and personal staffs.

Each Congress begins, on its first day of existence, with establishing its governing rules. This includes setting personal staff levels and authorizing a standard amount funding each office to pay that staff.

The personal staff of a Senator or Representative are people who take the lead in handling the multiple roles of each Member. Staff conduct “Case work” to help constituents receive the services, benefits, and due process they deserve. Receptionists welcome visitors and help them access special tours and events through the Nation’s Capital. Administrative and technical staff manage office operations and information resources. District staff provide similar services within the Members’ home area, including attending countless meetings with local officials and interest groups.

The heart of a Congressional staff is the legislative team. These individuals spend sometimes 100 hours a week carrying out the original purpose of representative government. A mix of young enthusiastic newcomers, fresh from college, work closely with seasoned professionals who may spend their entire careers working in Congress.

Ideally, a Senator’s or Member’s legislative team become the alter-ego of those they serve. They anticipate the Member’s needs. They become intimately knowledgeable of the issues most important to the Member and their constituents. As a Member gains seniority, the legislative team will grow with the Member and help them become a recognized leader on selected policies.

Legislative staff become the Member’s intellectual annex. They attend briefings, cultivate relationships with policy experts, and build their own collaborative networks among other Member staffs, lobbyists, and the media. They become invaluable in alerting the Member to opportunities and threats relating to the Member’s core interests and his or her’s constituents.

Legislative staff will collaborate with their network, including associates within Congressional leadership and committees, to manage the legislative process for their Member. At the basic level, legislative staff will “triage” pending legislation into its level of importance to the Member. This may include recommendations on how to vote on procedural motions and amendments, taking input from their Party’s leadership.

Legislation that is more important to a Member may require the legislative staff to draft amendments and speeches. The best staffers are ghostwriters, whose words so closely reflect the Member’s thinking and speaking, few will ever know where the staffers’ words end and the Members’ begin.

Ultimately, an issue requires the Member to take the initiative. The legislative staff will develop a strategy, which may include writing and introducing new legislation. At this level the legislative staff becomes a campaign team, mobilizing support from other Members, garnering endorsements and commitments from lobbyists and interest groups, engaging the media, and orchestrating hearings and media events to move the legislation forward.

It is no wonder that the most effective among the legislative staffers in Congress are highly sought after by outside interests and lobby groups. Such “super stars” can earn far more “on the outside” and some make the leap to the private sector.

Therefore, It is truly inspirational when a legislative staffer completes their career in Congress after many years of serving the Legislative Branch. They are the true “institutionalists” who maintain the culture of professionalism and pass their knowledge and commitment to the next generation.

[Scot Faulkner advises corporations and governments on how to save billions of dollars by achieving dramatic and sustainable cost reductions while improving operational and service excellence. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He started his Congressional career as an intern for Rep. Don Young (R-AK), then served on the legislative staffs of Rep. Arlen Stangeland (R-MN) and Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH). Faulkner later served on the White House Staff and as an Executive Branch Appointee.]