Now the Senate Is at Bat on Appropriations — Let’s Hope They Score Some Runs
The appropriations process can be long and arduous to follow — especially with multiple subcommittees in both chambers, a jam-packed legislative calendar, and a looming stopgap measure to muddy things further. Nevertheless, this process is important for ensuring that vital government programs are adequately funded — and that agencies are prudently regulated to promote accountability and good governance.
At this point, lawmakers in the House have passed six of their 12 appropriations bills, that include a number of reforms that POGO has been advocating for.
As the remaining House bills await action, the Senate has been busy at work. In late July, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) released the Senate versions of the appropriations bills. Although many of these bills have yet to receive a vote, we are still encouraged to see a range of important reforms included in the text.
Below, we highlight some of the POGO-supported reforms that have been included in both chambers’ funding bills. We also note those recommendations that are still included only in the House bills, and are therefore at greater risk of being left out when the final appropriations bills are signed into law.
Improve Death in Custody Reporting Act Implementation
Incorporated in the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) mark Appropriations Report at page 79, but not included in the House CJS Appropriations Report.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has a critical role in tracking deaths that result from state and federal law enforcement actions, through the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA). However, the program is ineffective. The DOJ needs to overhaul this system to ensure police accountability on the state and federal level.
If this reform is implemented, the attorney general will evaluate the current structure for reporting deaths in custody and “consider ways to improve the quality and transparency of future data” that DCRA collects. After reviewing this data, the attorney general will publish a report on how to improve this critical program.
This proposal was incorporated in the Senate CJS Appropriations Report but not in the House CJS Appropriations report. POGO encourages the full Senate to adopt this recommendation, and we urge the House to approve it.
Standardizing Funding for the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE)
Not incorporated in the Senate Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) mark Appropriations Report, but included in the House FSGG Appropriations Report at page 40.
Independent watchdog agencies are designed to enable effective coordination and accountability. However, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), the agency that oversees the federal IG offices, lacks sufficient or consistent funding.
Currently, CIGIE does not receive a direct annual appropriation from Congress. Instead, the 73 inspectors general offices it oversees — offices already strapped for funding — voluntarily fund the council. As a result of this mercurial funding structure and fluctuating annual budgets, CIGIE is often unable to engage in long term strategic planning.
The House included CIGIE appropriations in its FSGG report, and we call on the Senate to retain the appropriations in the final version that receives a vote on the floor. POGO is adamant that this is the right step to centralize and coordinate the IG system and will allow individual watchdogs to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. We urge the Senate to establish a direct appropriation to CIGIE so it will be able to fully oversee the overseers.
Increasing Transparency of Inspectors General Reports
Not included in the Senate FSGG mark Appropriations Report, but incorporated in the House FSGG Appropriations Report at page 39.
Despite the fact that offices of inspectors general are required to publish any audit, inspection, or evaluation, some offices circumvent this requirement by claiming that such publication would raise concerns regarding classification, national security, or privacy interests. While these are legitimate reasons for not issuing such documents, this carveout effectively nullifies any obligation to report even the existence of IG reports on government websites.
POGO has urged Congress to direct CIGIE to publish a list of non-public IG reports. Such a list would enable members of the public to file a Freedom of Information Act request for non-public documents, instigating an agency review process that would promote accountability and discretion for sensitive information.
The House has included these reforms in its FSGG report, and POGO calls on the Senate to retain them in the final version that receives a vote on the floor. If the public can better access and track IG findings and recommendations, the reforms will enable a system committed to transparency and equal application of the law, two key pillars of accountability.
Fully and Expeditiously Implementing the Corporate Transparency Act
Incorporated in the Senate FSGG mark Appropriations Report at page 13 and in the House FSGG Appropriations Report at page 21.
Enacted in 2021, the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA) is a landmark bill that requires corporations, LLCs, and other entities to disclose the identities of their “beneficial owners” — the people behind layers of anonymous shell companies. The CTA helps the Treasury Department crack down on illegal financial exchanges and money laundering.
POGO has strongly encouraged Congress to fully and expeditiously implement the CTA. While the Treasury Department has gone through preliminary steps, it is still behind its own timeline for CTA implementation. While the department lags in the rulemaking process, bad actors are still able to take advantage of the U.S. regulatory system.
If implemented, the CTA can strengthen oversight of financial institutions and fend off those seeking to evade accountability structures, including oligarchs associated with Vladimir Putin.
Strengthening the Authority of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Not included in the Senate Homeland Security mark Appropriations Report, but incorporated in the House Homeland Security Appropriations Report at pages 9-10.
The Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is an essential watchdog tasked with preserving liberty, fairness, and equality within the department.
POGO supports reforms for CRCL to ensure that the office can carry out independent investigations, free from the influence of DHS or its components. Having an independent CRCL office is critical to prevent investigations from being tainted by partisan or political interests. Moreover, POGO recommends disciplinary actions against DHS officers if misconduct is revealed in CRCL investigations.
The House has included reforms to strengthen CRCL, and we call on the Senate to retain these reforms in the final version of the Homeland Security Appropriations Report that receives a vote on the floor. If these reforms are passed, CRCL would be able to streamline its communications process with those who submit complaints. We strongly encourage the Senate to follow the House by incorporating this recommendation so CRCL will be able to hold those who violate civil rights within DHS accountable for their actions.
Requiring Department of Homeland Security Use-of-Force Reporting
Incorporated in the Senate Homeland Security mark Appropriations Report at page 33-34 and in the House Homeland Security Appropriations Report at page 12.
The components of the Department of Homeland Security, particularly U.S. Customs and Border Protection, systemically engage in use of force. Yet these practices are rarely investigated or disclosed to the public. As a result, many use-of-force claims are left unsubstantiated, and misconduct by agents is rarely met with sanction by DHS.
POGO has urged Congress to encourage DHS to prioritize use-of-force reporting standards that emphasize the preservation of human life. DHS should train agents to deploy de-escalation practices, using lethal force only as a last resort. In addition, POGO has urged Congress to establish an independent commission that will serve as a civilian oversight body for DHS law enforcement components. We are pleased that the House has also included use-of-force reporting reform in their Homeland Security Appropriations Report.
If these critical reforms are implemented, DHS entities would be obligated to prioritize use-of-force reporting mechanisms. This is one of many prudent policies to prevent civil rights abuses and deter officer misconduct. Therefore, POGO encourages the full Senate to adopt this reform.
Increasing Capitol Police Office of Inspector General Transparency
Incorporated in the Senate Legislative mark Appropriations Report at page 51 and in the House Legislative Appropriations Report at page 25.
The U.S. Capitol Police Office of the Inspector General (USCP IG) has the critical duty to provide operational oversight over the Capitol Police in an independent, professional, and nonpartisan manner. Even though this work is pursuant to directives issued by the Capitol Police Board, USCP IG does not make its reports available to the public. The failure to publish USCP IG reports undermines both public accountability and congressional oversight.
POGO specifically recommends that the USCP IG publish all final reports and err on the side of disclosure, only redacting information of final reports for national security and privacy interests. POGO has also requested Congress to direct USCP IG to publish prior reports retroactively.
Publishing reports provides critical transparency, informing the public as well as agencies that can take preventative measures. The investigations following last year’s attack on the Capitol emphasize why it is critical for national security that USCP IG activities and findings are made public.
The House has included USCP IG transparency reform in its Legislative Appropriations Report, and we call on the Senate to modify its language to bring it into line with the House Report.
Requiring a GAO Report on Agencies’ Compliance With the Good Accounting Obligation in Government Act
Incorporated in the Senate Legislative mark Appropriations Report at page 52 and in the House Legislative Appropriations Report at page 42.
The Good Accounting Obligation in Government Act (GAO-IG Act) requires that agencies publish a list of all unimplemented recommendations from their inspectors general and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that are more than one year old. Though the GAO-IG Act was enacted in 2019, many agencies are still not abiding by these simple requirements. Failure to comply with the GAO-IG Act leads to a dearth of critical data on the federal level, confusion among staff, and duplication of work.
Therefore, POGO has urged Congress to require the GAO to analyze and report on federal agencies’ compliance with the GAO-IG Act.
If implemented, the GAO report will detail where, why, and how agencies are failing to abide by oversight recommendations. It could help shed light on how to address these shortcomings and promote a healthy and responsive federal oversight system. As the House has also included this directive in their Legislative Report, POGO recommends that the full Senate adopt this reform.
We recommend Congress take up these requests.
The appropriations process is critical to ensuring that federal programs are thoroughly considered and prudently implemented. These reforms, many of which have already passed the House, outline necessary steps to supporting effective government. POGO hopes that these specific recommendations are included in Congress’s final bills and signed into law.