It’s time to reopen the People’s House to the People.
We are approaching the federal legislative season for fiscal year 23 before resolving spending decisions in fiscal year 22. We’ve been here before many times in the past decade. Balanced budget acts, fiscal cliffs, defense vs. non-defense debates, sequestration, continuing resolutions, omnibuses, minibuses, and cromnibuses are just a few of the manifestations of legislative disfunction. We are not in a good place. That we are again awaiting federal funding is terrible. But worse, we can be confident that Congress did not receive the best inputs.
Each year, Congress traditionally informs itself by taking meetings from industry and agencies in the form of hundreds of hearings and thousands of informational meetings. These inputs are an essential part of the legislative process. The breadth of issues before Congress in a given year is staggering. While much of the government can and does run effectively on auto-pilot, a significant portion of government activity and future planning requires foresight and deliberation.The lack of access to in-person meetings seriously inhibits the flow of critical information required for Congress and Congressional staff to make the best-informed decisions. Click To Tweet
This kind of planning requires quality information in the form of inputs. When Congress faces choices about how government should proceed, there are usually multiple correct answers. It is the evaluation of the facts that helps the decision-makers get to the best good government outcomes. Today, Congress’s failure to fully open its doors inhibits the sharing of essential facts.
The COVID-19 pandemic initially caused Congress to close its doors to the general public for public safety. It was consistent with industry, the federal government, and many state governments. Limiting access was seen as a viable method of reducing unnecessary contact and thereby reducing the spread of the virus. The events of January 6th, 2021, added another level of concern to the security protocols of the Capitol complex. The Capitol was flat-footed for the events of January 6th. Again, limiting access to visitors appears to be an easy fix to a security challenge.
Reopening The People’s House
Today, if you watch C-SPAN, Cable News, or a national news channel, you might see your favorite reporters located inside the buildings of Congress. There isn’t a problem for those who don’t regularly visit Capitol Hill because it’s not visible. However, there is a problem that affects you and affects government decision-making. The lack of access to in-person meetings seriously inhibits the flow of critical information required for Congress and Congressional staff to make the best-informed decisions.
Yes, there are virtual meetings taking place in many cases. Virtual meetings work to a point, but they are not the same. They are generally cold, impersonal, abrupt, and technical. Virtual and electronic exchange of information can work, but critical aspects of credibility, trust, and subtle non-verbal cues don’t convey accurately.
We are well past the need for the extreme visitor access protocols in Congress. One solution might be installing a badging system for those with legitimate needs for ongoing dialogue with Congress. The Press has such access. Why do the People doing the People’s business not have equal access to the People’s House? There can be a balance of security and access in the halls of Congress. It’s time to improve government processes.
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