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Self-help guide to Congress: Reports detail ways the institution could better itself

Katherine Tully-McManus, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Proposals for how Congress could overhaul the lobbying disclosure system, provide lawmakers with continuing education opportunities and make legislative action more transparent are just a few of the big ideas in eight reports made public by the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress on Friday.

In early March, the House approved a resolution that included 29 recommendations from the panel, and called for more than 20 reports on a wide array of issues. The first eight included those from the House Clerk's office, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Chief Administrative Officer.

"As we make these reports public, I'm glad to be laying the groundwork towards implementing the Select Committee's recommendations into internal reforms that make the House of Representatives more transparent, cultivate diversity and improve retention among staff, promote civility and collaboration, and create a more effective legislative branch," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the California Democrat who chairs the House Administration Committee and is a member of the select committee.

Lobbying disclosuresThe Office of the House Clerk submitted two possible solutions for a nagging problem with the existing system for collecting and cataloging mandatory disclosures from registered lobbyists. Lobbying firms and individual lobbyists, under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, are required to disclose this information on a quarterly basis.

"The current system relies on a less-than-fool-proof method of post processing of lobbyist information to determine whether a lobbyist being registered as new already exists in the system," says the clerk's report.

Within the system, lobbyists who change firms, work for multiple firms or change their names end up with multiple IDs within the system, ballooning the number of registrations.

 

The clerk's office has identified two potential solutions to the problem: either cleaning up the current database and incrementally improving the validation process or building a new process that ties registration information to a source of personally identifiable information, such as a driver's license.

The clerk's office says next steps include evaluating potential pros and cons of greater use of personally identifiable information in the lobbying registration process and methods to ensure security of the information.

Changes to the lobbyist registration validation process would require agreement between the House and the Senate, a major hurdle. But meetings are already under way. According to the report, the House Clerk's office met most recently on May 13 with the Senate to discuss the challenges of maintaining the lobbyist database.

In response to reports and legislation from the Modernization Committee identifying a lack of professional development and institutional training opportunities for lawmakers outside of a brief orientation, the Chief Administrative Officer submitted a report on the feasibility of creating a pilot program to address the issue.

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