Sidebar Professor Christopher Walker consults on federal government report
Over the last year Professor Christopher Walker served as the academic consultant for the Administrative Conference of the United States — a federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations on how to improve the federal administrative state — on a project exploring the role of federal agencies in the legislative process. With the help of a number of Moritz students working in Washington, D.C., last summer, Walker conducted a series of interviews and surveys with various officials at eight executive departments and two independent agencies to better understand when and how agencies respond to congressional requests for legislative drafting assistance. In November, Walker released the final report for this project, entitled Technical Assistance by Federal Agencies in the Legislative Process, which presents the findings from the study and proposes recommendations. The Conference accepted the recommendations in December.
As detailed in the report, federal agencies play a substantial role in the legislative process, yet little is publicly known about their role. Aside from drafting substantive legislative for congressional consideration, agencies also receive countless requests from congressional staffers to review and provide technical assistance on proposed legislation drafted in Congress. These congressional requests are often made in confidence, and agencies provide detailed feedback on the vast majority of legislation that gets introduced in Congress and virtually all that ultimately gets enacted into law. Agencies respond to nearly every such request they receive, and their expertise in the relevant subject matters plays a critical role in the legislative process. Yet, as the ultimate executors of the law they help draft, agencies’ role in the legislative process has the potential to raise separation of powers concerns between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.
In the report, Walker recommended a series of best practices to improve the process of agency technical assistance in legislative drafting. Among his recommendations, Walker identifies ways to improve the Congress-agency relationship by seeking out additional opportunities to provide technical drafting assistance and other agency educational efforts on the Hill. He also proposed a number of best practices to improve the quality of agency technical drafting assistance, including improved intra-agency coordination to leverage the relevant agency experts, better integration of appropriations legislative activities in the technical drafting assistance process, and best practices to maintain the distinct roles of, and strong working relationships between, an agency’s legislative affairs personnel and its legislative counsel.