Fixing Congress: LBJ School Report Recommends Reforms

 

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As we enter Day 10 of the partial government shutdown, Americans’ faith in the U.S. Congress is at an all-time low: a mere 5 percent of respondents in a recent Associated Press poll said they approve of decisions being made by government leaders.

Yet LBJ School of Public Affairs professor Angela Evans is optimistic. “I think we need to change the conversation,” Evans says. “We need to spend less time criticizing the Congress and more time listening to the next generation of leaders and looking at solutions.”

Evans has recently done just that. Her team of 16 LBJ School graduate students has just released a report, “Reclamation of the U.S. Congress,” that recommends potential reforms that could help move Congress forward.

The report is the product of a yearlong course at the LBJ School. Evans, who spent 30 years at the Congressional Research Service before joining UT in 2009, says she decided to treat her students just as she would professional analysts. She also coordinated class visits from an impressive litany of Congressional veterans, among them former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Sen. John Glenn, and Sen. John Cornyn. “It was amazing how eager they were to speak with the students about their experiences and what they would have done differently,” Evans says. “They added so much to the project.”

A few of the report’s many recommendations: abolish the filibuster, create a Congressional workweek that enables Congress members to spend more time in Washington; and require all parties and caucuses to publish and distribute their policy agendas at the beginning of each Congress.

Evans says the report stands out for its emphasis on objectivity, historical context, and fact-based analysis. Her students spent the entire first semester analyzing the history of Congress and identifying recurring tensions, such as centralization vs. decentralization, that have plagued the House and Senate over time. Then they spent the second semester making recommendations based on their research.

“The students did something no one else has done before,” Evans says. “No one had ever gone in and really thoroughly done the research to identify the tensions that recur in this institution. Few people really know what goes on behind closed doors in Congress, and this is a step toward understanding that.”

Photo courtesy VinothChandar on Flickr.

 

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