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Committee on the Modernization of Congress

"Members are clearly concerned for the future of Congress. These are not partisan or political concerns," writes Mark Strand.

Now that the House’s modernization panel is extended, it has a lot more work to do

Strand is president of the Congressional Institute, a nonprofit that seeks to help members of Congress better serve their constituents and their constituents better understand Congress. He testified before the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress in March.

As the House of Representatives marches toward a partisan impeachment, the American public can be forgiven for missing a bright spot of productive bipartisanship: the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. After an encouraging year of bipartisan committee work, the House voted last week to extend the panel for a year.

This committee has made 29 unanimous recommendations to improve technology, transparency, accessibility and constituent engagement as well as provide better support for staff. Twenty-nine unanimous recommendations. And these aren't boiler plate measures like "The House should have more transparency." They are well thought-out solutions that can be taken up by committees of jurisdiction, such as allowing new members to hire a transition staffer, promoting civility during new-member orientation, streamlining bill writing and finalizing a system to easily track how amendments would alter legislation and impact current law.

The committee's members wanted to be part of this work. They understand how important it is for the House to catch up with modern times. There's still a lot of work to do, though, which is why it's great they will be able to continue through the end of 2020.

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Republican Tom Graves (left) and Democrat Derek Kilmer lead the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, which demonstrated unanimous support for all of its proposal to the full House of Representatives.

Panel charged with fixing Congress is given another year to try

The House has rewarded its special "fix Congress committee" for its wholly bipartisan and relatively productive first year by extending its life for another year, giving the panel time to tackle some of the more contentious problems on its watch list.

With polarization, dysfunction and gridlock now Capitol Hill's three defining characteristics, the panel was created in January to set the stage for different behaviors to germinate — by proposing how the House could become a more efficient, transparent and up-to-date place for members to pass bills and conduct oversight, and for staffers to help them.

The idea is that it's essential for Congress to get back some of the capacity, stature and muscle ceded in recent decades to the president and the courts — and thereby recalibrate the balance of powers at the heart of a thriving federal republic.

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"If automation of some parts of franking review is a priority for members, it might be time to invite vendors to propose solutions," argues Marci Harris.

How 18th century rules for congressional 'mail' could work in the 21st

Harris is the CEO of Popvox Inc., an online platform providing information and resources for civic engagement and legislating.

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress on Thursday takes up what some might consider the most arcane, inside-baseball, boring topics on Capitol Hill — but one that I get very excited about given its potential to keep congressional information from going totally off the rails: franking!

The congressional franking privilege, which originally allowed members of Congress to send official mail to their constituents at government expense, dates from 1775, when it was approved by the First Continental Congress. Of course, this privilege was abused over the years, leading to the creation of the Congressional Franking Commission, which is charged with regulating and limiting how official resources are used for communication.

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House Government Oversight Committee

Kevin Kosar testifying on Capitol Hill in December 2016.

Meet the reformer: Kevin Kosar, strong voice for a stronger Congress

Kevin Kosar is vice president of policy at R Street Institute and also cofounder of the nonpartisan Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group, which aims to strengthen Congress. He was previously a senior official at the Congressional Research Service, where he served as an analyst and research manager. His answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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R Street is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research organization. Our mission is to engage in policy research and outreach to promote free markets and limited, effective government.

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