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The Select Committee on Modernization: What Problem Solving Looks Like

The Select Committee on Modernization: What Problem Solving Looks Like

Beth Hladick
October 6, 2022

The Select Committee on Modernization: What Problem Solving Looks Like

The topline: The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (also known as the “Mod Comm”) — a bipartisan working group of members who’ve worked to catapult the institution into the 21st century — recently wrapped their last hearing. The committee accomplished many laudable goals, and knows the work isn’t quite finished yet. 

Critiques of congressional inaction and partisan bickering pervade Capitol Hill, especially during election season. But for the past four years, a lesser-known House committee made bipartisan progress toward a form of governance that we all long for: one that’s more functional, efficient, and inclusive — regardless of party — in the name of a co-equal first branch of government. 

The Select Committee on Modernization was established by House Resolution in January of 2019, with the primary mission of recommending ways to improve Congress and help lawmakers and their staff better serve the American people. Led by Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and William Timmons (R-SC), the 12-member committee of equal Republicans and Democrats is well on the way to implementing 125 out of 195 of its recommendations for improving the U.S. House. 

The committee’s success is a testament to the power of bipartisan problem-solving, especially since the committee itself does not have authority to write legislation, yet has gotten recommendations passed and implemented by legislature (recommendations need supermajority approval to be put forward). Some key examples of change that the committee has affected include: 

  • The creation of a one-stop shop Human Resources Hub to provide best practices, hiring tips, and tools to develop, manage, and retain congressional staff; 
  • A permanent Office of Diversity and Inclusion to help House offices attract, retain, and reflect the diversity of the American people. 
  • A nonpartisan new member orientation that focuses on civility and bipartisanship; 
  • Modernized bill referral and tracking, an automated process for obtaining bill cosponsors, and a collaborative legislative drafting platform; 
  • The establishment of a Community Project Funding program to facilitate community and member input in the appropriations process, and to help ensure federal funding is allocated transparently. 

Throughout the committee’s tenure, work was supported by many institutional experts and good government groups, primarily via a cohort known as, “Fix Congress.” The committee regularly took on big questions and “outside of the box discussions.” A recent “Big Ideas” hearing featured testimony from Dr. Danielle Allen, who spoke on strengthening social and civic infrastructure, and from Dr. Lee Drutman, who discussed the potential benefits of increasing the overall number of House seats to improve representation. (These are just two of many strategies that have been put forward to reinvent American democracy for the 21st century, as documented in the American Academy of Arts & Sciences report, Our Common Purpose).

“As Chair Kilmer often likes to say, ‘there are no bad ideas in the idea room.’ It is in that spirit that today we invited several witnesses to discuss with the committee, as we look ahead to the end of our tenure, several ‘outside the box’ ideas for reforming Congress,” said Vice Chair William Timmons (R-SC).  “While not every idea brought to the committee’s attention today can be easily accomplished, or will have board support at first look, our committee has always been well served by our willingness to have an open, honest, and in-depth discussion on all ideas that could improve our effectiveness for the American people.”

Additional committee recommendations are expected before year’s end, and many hope the work will live on past the 117th Congress through a renewal of the committee (as it was at the end of the 116th Congress), or the creation of a new subcommittee under House Administration.

While bipartisanship on the Hill feels exceedingly rare, it is not completely obsolete. In the words of Rep. Kilmer, “Everybody wants this. Listen, there are people that want to burn down Congress, but I think [generally] the people here want to improve the institution.” 

Though the future of the committee is still unknown, vehicles like the modernization committee continue to model the leadership we seek.