Editor’s Note: Derek Kilmer, a Democrat, is the US Representative for Washington’s 6th Congressional District and is Chairman of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. Tom Graves, a Republican, is the US Representative for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District and is Vice Chairman of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. You can learn more at about the Select Committee here. To share your ideas on making Congress work better, email: email@example.com. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the authors. Read more opinion at CNN.
Less popular than head lice, root canals and Nickelback. The ultimate fixer upper. The swamp.
These phrases all describe how many view the US Congress. It’s no secret that the American people are fed up with the dysfunction that exists in Washington.
We “don’t need a brain surgeon to tell us what needs to be done to fix this decay,” New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell told us earlier this year.
Most members of Congress are not brain surgeons. But as members of the House and leaders of the new Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, we are problem solvers. And we are committed to working with our colleagues, academics, former members, institutional experts, and anyone who is willing to lend a helping hand or a word of advice, to diagnose and fix the issues that plague the People’s House.
In January, a nearly unanimous bipartisan vote of 418-12 in the US House of Representatives established the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, with both Democrats and Republicans recognizing that it was time for Congress to revamp the institution to be more responsive to and representative of the American people’s needs and aspirations.
The Select Committee is one of the only truly bipartisan committees in Washington, with an equal number of Republican and Democratic members. And with members hailing from diverse backgrounds in law, technology, and business, just to name a few, the committee is uniquely qualified to find solutions to the challenges facing Congress. This includes everything from IT modernization to staff diversity and recruitment, to increasing transparency, improving civility and congressional operations.
Though we hail from different sides of the aisle, we’ve made a point to check our party cards at the door. Problem solving doesn’t have to have a partisan sticker. We’re proud to work together, and we’re already producing results.
At the end of May, the Select Committee unanimously approved five new recommendations to boost transparency and accountability in Congress - the first time in recent years that a congressional reform committee has produced and passed bipartisan recommendations.
These five recommendations aim to provide all Americans with greater access to the inner workings of Washington:
- Developing tracked changes for legislation so anyone can quickly view how amendments change bills, and how bills change current law;
- Creating a new identifier code system to make it easier to know who is lobbying Congress and what they’re lobbying for;
- Allowing one-click access to a list of agencies and programs that have expired and need congressional attention;
- Allowing one-click access to see how members of Congress vote in committees;
- Creating one standardized format for legislation to improve the drafting process.
That’s just the first round of recommendations. As the leaders of the committee, together we’ve created a litmus test for each recommendation put forward by the Select Committee: If implemented, would this help Congress better serve the American people? Would this help make Congress a more effective and efficient legislative body to implement real policy changes?
Increasing transparency in Congress allows our constituents to have a front-row seat to legislating and policy making, and that’s a good thing. More recommendations will be rolled out as the year goes on to make sure that we continue to make changes to best serve the American people.
Looking ahead, we will explore policies that help develop the next generation of leaders in Congress. When good public servants leave Congress and are not replaced with fully equipped successors, the institution sees its capacity erode. Lobbyists and the executive branch tend to become more vocal to fill the void left by experienced policy minds. That doesn’t serve the interests of the American people.
We also want to ensure that the US House operates as a 21st century institution, utilizing the best technology and resources available. As consumers, we use new data and technology every day to improve our lives. Congress should be no different when solving problems for or communicating with the American people.
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There’s much more we can and will investigate. While it may not be full of brain surgeons, Congress does have people from all walks of life and with a diverse set of experiences who are helping us to produce fresh ideas and out-of-the-box solutions to address what ails Congress.
The Select Committee has a big job to do. We are eager to work in a bipartisan way to make Congress work better for the American people.