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EVALUATION OF LEGISLATIVE REORGANIZATION ACT
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 1948
UNITED STATES SENATE,
Washington, D. C. The committee met, pursuant to call, at 10:20 a. m. in the committee room, Senate Office Building, Senator George D. Aiken (chairman of the committee) presiding.
Present. Senators Aiken (presiding), Ferguson, Bricker, McClellan, Hoey, and Robertson of Virginia.
Also present. E. B. Van Horn, committee staff director.
We will proceed with the continuation of the hearing which was started earlier in the month to carry out the provisions of Section 102 (1) (g) (2) (C) which sets forth the duties of the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments with respect to the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946. This paragraph reads thatsuch committee shall have the duty of
evaluating the effects of laws enacted to reorganize the legislative and executive branches of the Government.
I think it is generally conceded that the Reorganization Act has resulted in increased efficiency in the operations of the Congress. It is realized that there is still chance for more improvement in bringing about still greater efficiency. We are fortunate in having with us this morning as witnesses the authors of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, Senator La Follette and Congressman Monroney, who did heroic work and accomplished the impossible in securing enactment of this legislation, which has proven already to be of inestimable value.
The first witness this morning will be former Senator Robert M. La Follette, Jr., whom we certainly appreciate having with us this morning.
STATEMENT OF FORMER SENATOR ROBERT M. LA FOLLETTE, JR.,
WASHINGTON, D. C.
Mr. LA FOLLETTE. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I very much appreciate this opportunity to appear before this distinguished committee, and I want to express my personal gratification over the fact that the committee has taken action under the act of 1946 to evaluate the results of the operation of that act and to consider further proposals for greater efficiency in the legislative branch of the Government. I am happy to be able to accept your invitation to appear as a witness in these hearings. The organization of the Congress is a subject in which I have a continuing interest, not
withstanding my retirement during the past year from first-hand experience concerning it.
Due to my involuntary absence from the congressional scene, I am already out of touch with the day-to-day incidents which must be known intimately to evaluate the functioning of the legislative process. However, my status as a private citizen should make it possible for me to be more objective. It relieves me of the need for dealing with the reckless charges frequently made against reorganization-namely, that the proponents are motivated by selfish or personal considerations when they seek better facilities to enable the Congress to discharge its great responsibilities in a complex world.
We were not deterred by such charges when the Reorganization Act was passed. In fact, we had overwhelming public sentiment behind us. But perhaps I can say now with even greater emphasis that any necessary reorganization of congressional legislative methods should not be permitted to lag either because of vested interests in old methods or because of the inevitable vulnerability of the Congress to demagogic attacks whenever it votes for better staffs, more adequate salaries, and other facilities necessary to maintain its position in the Federal structure as the policy-making arm of government.
It is gratifying that this committee is undertaking the important task of evaluating what has been accomplished under the 1946 act and what remains to be done with respect to congressional organization. I am confident that worth-while improvements will result ultimately from your studies and hearings.
The Reorganization Act of 1946 was not a perfect bill. The most that any of us who sponsored the legislation claimed on passage was that it was a substantial step in the right direction. Even if it had been more perfect it would have been subject to varying degrees of success, depending on the attitude and administration that succeeding Congresses accorded to it.
Opponents have been able to point to defects and shortcomings. Because of the widespread public support for the bill at the time of passage, it is probably true that some people were oversold on the results which could be anticipated and that there is a let-down for those who expected some marked changes in outward appearances rather than technical improvements which are not readily discernible except to those familiar with the legislative processes. During the initial months of familiarization with the new methods, the act was dubbed a "disorganization act" by some. And in some instances the act was blamed for procedural delays and difficulties—no matter what the real explanations.
Most of the opposition of this nature has evaporated. It is significant that no substantial effort has been made to repeal any major provisions of the act. Rather, most of the proposed changes have been in the nature of perfecting amendments, designed to improve the act or to incorporate reforms which it failed to achieve.
The leadership of the Eightieth Congress made a conscientious effort to carry out the terms of the act. The new Congress tested and proved most of the new procedures and organization. The experience of this Congress in the past year has demonstrated that while the act accomplished a great deal, there is opportunity for amendment and further improvement.
There can be disagreement, as there is, concerning the legislative record of the first session of the Eightieth Congress. I am not passing judgment on the merits of the legislation which was enacted. But I am confident that any impartial observer will agree that the Congress last year tackled a heavy work load, and from a procedural standpoint dispatched the business in a manner that compares favorably with any previous Congress.
Many of the criticisms of the Reorganization Act are based not on what the act does, but rather on what it fails to do. If the alleged omissions were an intentional or intrinsic part of the reorganization scheme, the plan might be justly criticised on this score. But it is not entirely fair to criticize the act for not going far enough when, due X to other circumstances, a more comprehensive program as desired was impossible of attainment at the time. It is appropriate to note that those of us who led the reorganization fight wanted to go further.
As to the omissions of the act, it should be explained that in the first place the jurisdiction of our joint committee was limited. It was not permitted to make recommendations affecting rules of procedure
X on the floor of either House. This prevented us from including, had we desired to do so, any provision with respect to the limitation of debate in the Senate, or for the adoption of any other parliamentary revisions in procedure, such as the interesting proposal to permit Cabinet members of the executive departments to participate in policy-explanation sessions before the full memberships of either or both Houses.
In the second place, we were unable to get any substantial agreement on methods to improve the seniority system in the selection of committee chairmen, or on methods to revise the powers of the House Committee on Rules, which are sometimes arbitrary and sometimes abused. The alleged evils of the seniority system are in my opinion exaggerated completely out of proportion to reality, but the selection of the best possible committee chairmen is so important that it warrants an intensive search for better methods of selection.
Finally, we were sorry to lose certain provisions in the legislative process, after agreement had been reached in the joint committee. We lost the provisions for a congressional personnel office, which was X designed to insure high class personnel on committee staffs and in certain other positions, including the Capitol "housekeeping" employ
It was to have power to inaugurate a merit system and personnel administration for job classifications and certifications. We lost the provisions for the House policy committees, and the Joint LegislativeExecutive Council which sought to improve relationships between the Congress and the executive departments. Other provisions, such as administrative assistants in the House, a stenographic pool, and a ban on special committees, went by the board. Provisions banning private bills and claims were "watered down." The proposal to relieve Congress of the municipal duties of running the District of Columbia failed to materialize.
I mention these facts because the act as passed cannot properly be criticized for failing to meet certain conditions which the omitted provisions were designed to accomplish, and because each of these provisions are worthy of further study by your committee.
One allegation that has been widely circulated is that the Reorganization Act retarded the appropriation process. Others may be
more competent to testify on that point, but I do not believe the statement is correct. It is true that the appropriation bills were behind schedule last year, that 11 out of 12 of the major supply bills lacked final action on the June 30 deadline, at the end of the Government's fiscal year. The explanation lies in the fact that Congress made a determined effort last year to cut appropriations and the Appropriations Committee did much more probing before reporting the bills. The debates in the respective chambers after the committees had made their recommendations were relatively brief and without numerous contests.
Actually the appropriations process was least affected by the reorganization. The jurisdiction of the committees remained unchanged and special concessions were made to retain a larger membership on the Appropriations Committees. One change, applying to all committees, was the requirement for open hearings; and my understanding is that this provision was not followed by the House Committee on Appropriations.
As to the general question whether or not the Reorganization Act has facilitated the flow of legislation, no exact determination can be made because averages and standards are hard to apply when dealing with this question. Time consumed in the passage of an act has no real bearing unless considered in conjunction with a score of other factors, such as the complexity of the bill, the background, the sponsorship, the urgency, the controversial or noncontroversial features, and the mechanical aspects of language and drafting. It is also meaning, less to try to assess the flow of legislation without taking into full account the total legislative work load under which a particular Congress operates.
The facts, for whatever they are worth, are that 394 public laws were enacted in the first session of the Eightieth Congress as against 293 in the first session of the Seventy-ninth Congress, and 219 in the first session of the Seventy-eighth Congress. All of these, however, are below the 414 public laws passed in the first session of the Seventyfourth Congress in 1935.
My own opinion is that the flow of legislation has been improved under the new procedures. The Reorganization Act made no promise, and I emphasize this, to reduce the total work load, except for certain minor legislation.
Because committee reorganization was one of the major items in the 1946 act, concern has been evidenced by some observers with respect to the creation of subcommittees within the new integrated committee system. Those who are hostile to the Reorganization Act take the view that a multiplicity of subcommittees is worse than the old system and that it all goes to show that any committee-structure reorganization was futile in the first place. Even some who are friendly to reorganization have viewed the situation with alarm and have taken the position that the Congress is acting contrary to the spirit of the Reorganization Act by permitting this to happen.
As to what has happened to date, I do not share this concern. Admittedly, too many subcommittees can endanger the workability of an integrated committee system. However, these facts should be noted: First, that subcommittees are nothing new in the legislative process and we did not intend to curb normal subcommittee activities in the Reorganization Act. Many of the subcommittees which have
now become the cause for concern existed in previous Congresses without special notice. Also it has been a long-standing practice for certain committees to have standing subcommittees.
Second, a recent tabulation by the Library of Congress shows that the number of standing subcommittees increased in this Congress by only 16; that is, from 131 to 147. In the face of a decrease of 47 standing committees—from 81 to 34, I do not believe the increase in standing subcommittees is excessive.
Furthermore, to the extent that these standing subcommittees replace the appointment of special subcommittees for individual bills, I believe it is a wholesome development. With the present complexities of legislation, legislators must necessarily become specialists to a certain degree, and standing subcommittees are an assistance to the specialization that is necessary.
The essential and important difference between a hodgepodget committee system and an integrated scheme is not in the relative number of subcommittees, but rather in the formalization of fixed channels and definite jurisdictions so that each new piece of legislation in any given field can have the benefit of the staff work and specialized experience of Members of Congress. As I see it, there is much less likelihood of wasteful duplication in legislative studies, or of uncorrelated activities, under the present committee structure. I venture the prediction that it will work even better as the professional staff members, many of whom are relatively new, gain additional experience in their specialized fields of legislation.
In further reference to committee organization, criticism has been made that the new committees under the act do not in fact have equal work loads, despite an effort to divide the load as evenly as possible. Changes may be necessary on the basis of experience, but hasty conclusions should rot be drawn, in my judgment, on the basis of number of bills referred to each. Mere numbers of bills are not necessarily * a criterion of work load. For example, the Appropriations or Foreign Relations Committees normally handle relatively few bills, but are among the hardest working because of the major importance of their
On the other hand, various private bills still allowed are relatively unimportant individually, but in their large numbers can and do put an onerous load on the present Judiciary Committees in both Houses. Unquestionably, further steps should be taken to relieve the Judiciary Committees of this burden; but as a general proposition it must be realized that the importance of a committee, or its work load, will vary within wide limits from time to time or from Congress to Congress, depending upon the nature of the national and international problems that are paramount at the time.
The question has been raised whether some changes should be made to permit the majority party in the Senate to exercise stronger committee control than is presently exercised by a 7-to-6 ratio in the 13member committees when the division of the Senate is close. It is argued that the ratio should be higher because a single defection from the party ranks can upset the majority control under these circumstances.
It is true, of course, that each vote in a committee becomes relatively more important when the size of the committee is reduced.