These days, most headlines about Congress tend to shout about its dysfunction, sigh over its inertia or bemoan its extreme polarization. Over the past year, however, a bipartisan committee of 12 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, five of whom are former state legislators, has gotten attention for the opposite reasons.
The U.S. House established the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress in January 2019 to focus on streamlining legislative procedures; creating a leadership pipeline; boosting staff diversity, recruitment, retention and compensation; and improving technology, innovation and administrative efficiencies. This isn't the first time Congress has engaged in such a process. Reform efforts occurred in 1945, 1965 and 1993. What's unique this time, however, is the committee's strong desire to learn from state legislatures.
Enter NCSL, which teamed up with various legislative staff to spotlight our laboratories of democracy on Capitol Hill, educating the committee about legislative innovations, practices and realities throughout the year.
The committee received a primer on training, leadership development and new-member orientations from Stacy Householder, director of NCSL's leadership and international programs. It heard about Missouri's "freshman tour," which takes legislators around the state by bus to learn about each other's districts. It learned that legislators in Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Washington and Wisconsin can receive ongoing professional development in at least one area, such as parliamentary procedure or civics education. Householder also described the array of training and professional development opportunities NCSL offers.
Diane Boyer-Vine, legislative counsel and head of the legislative data center in California, demonstrated her state's "Member Portfolio" web application, which allows legislators to access nearly real-time updates on amendments and existing law, all at the touch of an iPad. Mike Rohrbach, chief information officer and director of information technology in...