One thing I didn’t delve into too deeply in my post reviewing the committee funding process was how committees spend their money. Let’s do that quickly right now.
First off, you don’t have to leave your computer to check it out for yourself. You might recall that the Committee on House Administration (CHA) has jurisdiction and oversight responsibilities for funding to the House standing committee (with the exception of the Committee on Appropriations.) Consequently, CHA also has the power to regulate use of committee funds, and such regulations are published in the Committee Handbook. One of the regulations placed on the standing committees is a monthly reporting requirement:
Each committee must submit to the Committee on House Administration, by the 18th of each month, an original and two copies of a report signed by the Committee Chair on the activities of the committee during the preceding month.
- Summary of the progress of the specific investigations and studies for which funds were approved.
- Statement of expenses for the month and year to date. Committees must reconcile their figures with the Monthly Financial Statement prior to submitting the monthly reports.
- Report of travel performed.
- List of committee employees, job titles and gross monthly salaries (a copy of the monthly Payroll Certification Form is acceptable).
- Certification by the Chair of the reporting committee that the report is available to Members of the committee for examination.
Monthly reports for each committee will be available for public inspection at the Committee on House Administration.
Best part: they were always available for public inspection at CHA, but as of the 112th Congress, they are now all available online. Second best part: the expenditures information is both thorough and easy to understand. (I’m leaving aside the other stuff in the reports, but that can be interesting too). If you are trying to get a feel for the committee system on the Hill, a 15-minute browse through the monthly reports of 1 or 2 committees is a good way to do it.
Let’s take the Agriculture Committee as an example. If we look at their December 2011 report, we can not only get a snapshot of how they spent their money for the month, but we’ll also get to see the entire 2011 expenditure picture. What do we see?
1. The total balance sheet (pg. 2). The Committee was authorized $6,189,494 for calendar year 2011 under the primary expense resolution (H.Res.147), but spent only $4,933,201.89 of that as of the December report, leaving a balance of $1,256,292.11 for the year (although some obligations such as equipment purchases may not be disbursed until the following year, so it’s not as much left over as you might think). December spending was similar to other months, with $456,366.26 spent.
2. The monthly and YTD breakdown (pg. 3). This shows expenditures by category: Personnel Compensation, Travel, Communications/Utilities, Printing and Reproduction, Other Services, Supplies and Materials, and Equipment. You can see that in December, the Ag Committee spent $432,083.66 on staff pay, or 95% of its expenditures, which is similar to its 94% rate for the entire year. The Committee spent only $107k on communications, $103k on services, $56k on materials, and $15k on travel in 2011. The equipment total of just under $5k is somewhat misleading; many committees don’t end up paying for their equipment purchases until the following year, due to the acquisition and billing cycles.
3. Franked mail expenditures (pg. 5-6). Like all the other committees, Ag is authorized $5,000 in franked mailings. And like almost all the other committees, it uses virtually none. In December, it spent $1.72 on franked mail. This money comes out of the official mail allowance account of the House, not out of the committees funding authorization.
4. Expenditures off of last year’s authorization (pg. 7-9). These will almost always be equipment and services, since nothing little else — and virtually no pay (except in January of the new year) could be obligated off of old funds but not disbursed for months and months.
5. Majority Staff Payroll Certification. (pg. 11-13). Here we get to see every majority employee of the committee, their annual salary, and what they got paid in December. On the summary sheet, we can see that ther are 34 majority staffers, who made a total of $269,637 in December. We can also see the job descriptions of the staff, and that they are generally well-paid, in comparison to personal office staff. The average majority annual salary is north of $85k, with 16 of the staffers making over $100k, and the staff assistants making $38k.
6. Minority Staff Payroll Certification (pg. 14-15). Same snapshot, but for the minority. Twelve staffers total, receiving a total of $162,446 in December. We can also see that the minority staff is paid very well; by keeping a relatively small staff, every minority staffer is making over $150k.
What can we learn from all this, big picture? A few quick thoughts. One, it illustrates some of the differences between the Member offices and the committees. The committees have both more money to spend, and less need to spend it on things like travel and franked mail. Therefore, they have more resources to expend on staff, which translates not only into more staffers, but generally better paid staff. Second, the consequences that flow from this are quite obvious: with more and better-paid staff but less constituent-oriented responsibilities, the committees are in much better position to generate policy. When combined with their rules-based advantage as gatekeepers against bills developed within their jurisdiction by outsiders, the incentive structure of the House strongly tilts against the writing of large or substantial bills in the Member personal offices.