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Research Assistant Opportunity

A Reform to Help Congress Work Better [Research Assistantship]

Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration
Professor Stuart Kasdin


The Project: This project involves historic research using the Congressional Record. The goal is to produce an academic paper, in which the student could receive shared authorship.

The paper would examine the potential impacts of a particular reform to the Congressional budget process: the reform is to merge appropriations and authorization committees. Presently, authorization committees design new programs, creating the terms for program spending (i.e., what a program aims to accomplish, who is eligible, and what they can receive), while the appropriation committees determine how much funding each program will receive. This proposal would do away with this long-standing bifurcation of responsibilities. Each newly designed committee would have a mix of mandatory and discretionary programs.

The greatest potential advantage of the reform proposal is to encourage greater productivity from the Congress. Because appropriations must be completed on an annual basis and because the funding process supports logrolling and ‘splitting the difference’, compromise is easier. The need to annually produce new budgets could encourage greater on-going cooperation, enhanced communication and trust, and less partisan posturing. In addition, the new committees would have all the relevant program spending (except tax expenditures) housed together. This would encourage increased allocative efficiency.

There are potential risks. One risk is that the appropriation bills would be later than usual, with partisanship from the authorization process spilling into appropriations. In addition, there is a risk of increased use of legislative riders and earmarks added to appropriation bills.

Because there are historical examples of congressional committees with combined authorization and appropriation responsibilities, we can get a better sense of the possible outcomes of the reform. Between 1879 and1885, the House of Representatives stripped the Appropriation Committee of its authority over rivers and harbors, agriculture, consular and diplomatic affairs, the military, the Post Office, and Indian affairs. In each of these areas the authorization committees gained the right to report appropriations. On the Senate side, by1899, a similarly broad swath of activities had been removed from the appropriator’s jurisdiction and placed under the responsibility of the relevant authorization committees. The Appropriation Committees only regained the responsibility for appropriations after the 1921 Budget and Accounting Act.


Research Assistant Tasks: You would examine the Congressional Record (which is on-line), comparing committees that made the change and combined authorization and appropriation functions, and committees that did not. In addition, the examination could cover the period of time several years before and after the changes in committee responsibilities. Some metrics to examine would include legislation introduced; public laws enacted and landmark, timeliness of appropriations, and a measure of altered appropriation bill content, such riders.


Time Commitment/Credit Hours: 4-6 hours per week (beginning Summer 2015); 2 credit option


Contact email: skasdin@gwu.edu


To Apply:  Email a resume with major and a writing sample to the above address.