The founding fathers envisioned a federal government composed of three co-equal branches: the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary. Yet in recent decades, deep cuts to congressional staff and congressional support organizations have made it harder for Congress to fulfill its role as a co-equal branch of government.
SINCE 1994, committee staffs in the House, which are the body’s reservoir of policy expertise, have been slashed by over 40%. (Senate committee staffs have also been reduced, though by lesser amounts.)
OVER THE SAME PERIOD, the staff at congressional support agencies have faced similar cuts, with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) losing over a third of its staff, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) over a quarter, and the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) being eliminated.
THE PERSONAL STAFFS of Representatives and Senators are talented and hardworking, but they are also often pulled in many directions and turnover is high even in senior positions. The median tenure of legislative directors is just 1.3 years in the House and 3.5 years in the Senate.
For Members seeking to prevent rollbacks of essential protections and hold the Executive Branch accountable, the disadvantages are compounded because the federal agencies routinely ignore their requests for information.
Co-Equal can help balance the scales. It can develop ideas for reports on the local impacts of federal policies that draw attention to Member priorities. It can provide strategic advice on the legislative process and Executive Branch oversight. And it can connect congressional offices with outside experts, like former Administration officials, who can level the information playing field.