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Modernizing Federal Support Agencies to Meet the Research and Information Needs of Congress

November 3, 2021

On October 21, the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress held a hearing on “Modernizing the Congressional Support Agencies to Meet the Needs of an Evolving Congress.” Witnesses representing the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) spoke about role of these agencies to support the science and technology information needs of Congress. Committee members raised questions about how the different styles of formatting and delivering information could be leveraged to improve the value to Congressional offices. 

This is a critical topic for FABBS and our members at several levels. At one level, FABBS monitors and engages with these agencies to support the behavioral and cognitive considerations associated with these policy requests. For example, do they include the human role in cybersecurity in addition to the technical specifics of how a virus can be detected or protected against? FABBS disciplines have a lot to contribute to the questions around effective communication and delivery of information to Congressional offices and also to inform education and trainings for new members about the decision-making process.    

The first witness, Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of GAO, reflected on his agency’s efforts to deploy multidisciplinary teams to review federal activities and make recommendations to improve the federal response, including an emphasis on transparency and accountability. He laid out GAO plans to develop real time information and provide monthly briefings to Congress to help legislators make better use of GAO resources.  GAO launched the Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team in 2019 and it has nearly doubled in size to 120 staff members. FABBS is engaged with GAO about the use of science in policy and decision making and exploring if evaluating accountability extends to considerations of using rigorous and reliable research to inform decisions. The Chief Scientist of GAO will present at the FABBS annual meeting. 

Dr. Mazanec, the Director of CRS, noted some challenges and opportunities to keep pace with the needs of Congress. For one, CRS is adapting to an environment in which congressional offices are demanding information faster, and in shorter, more concise formats. This can be difficult, she noted, when complex policy issues stem from areas where sources are not authoritative and can reflect biases. One step that the organization is taking, is to bolster its internal scope of expertise, including by hiring for 12 new positions in science and technology. She listed three other pressing challenges facing CRS: recruitment and retention of analysts, preservation of institutional knowledge, and technological challenges. 

Director of CBO, Philip Swagel, focused on effectiveness and transparency, stressing the need to publish more on increasingly important issues, such as a diversifying workforce. He suggested that CBO could make operation changes to better serve Congress, including by providing more consultation during the legislation drafting process. 

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