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Senate Staff, Not Senators, Decided to Close the NDAA

Photograph of an Empty Senate Hearing Room

Just when we thought the unnecessarily secretive Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) process for debating the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could not get any worse, it does.

It turns out the committee’s April 23rd vote was even more out of line with Senate rules than we previously reported. POGO has now learned that SASC staff—voting for Senators that did not anticipate any votes during the pre-markup meeting, made some of the deciding votes on their boss's behalf. It was only after the fact that they confirmed their Senator would have voted the same way.

While POGO disagrees with the Senators who voted to close the session, we respect that they were democratically elected to make these decisions. Allowing staff to vote on the key decision whether to open or close the markup of a bill that determines how to spend over half a trillion dollars is not only a violation of the Senate rules, but a breach of the public trust. Although SASC rules allow for proxy voting, the use of that tool should be limited, and it appears the conditions for using proxies were not met with this vote.

POGO has also learned that the committee had a chance to hold a recorded vote in open session at the start of the NDAA markup, but that it went ahead with a closed session instead. As of this writing, no votes from the markup have been posted online, nor has a copy of the bill itself— a giant leap backward for open government.


By: Elizabeth "Liz" Hempowicz
Director of Public Policy, POGO

Liz Hempowicz Liz Hempowicz is the Director of Public Policy for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

Related Content: National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

Authors: Elizabeth "Liz" Hempowicz

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