Federal Advisory Committees' Rosters and Costs Rise, Says CRS
Government spent $367 million last year on part-time bodies offering expertise.
The next president, on top of making 4,000 political appointments to agencies in his or her first year, will also help name hundreds of specialized experts to more than 1,000 federal advisory committees.
These 1,009 commissions, councils, task forces and working groups appointed by Congress, the president or agencies in fiscal 2015 had 72,220 members at an overall cost of more than $367 million, according to a Congressional Research Service report released last month.
“Over the past five years, the number [of such] committees operating governmentwide has remained consistent, while the number of committee members has increased by 2,450 (3.5 percent),” wrote CRS research assistant Casey Burgat.
That reflects an increase over the previous year, following a decline in the three years before that, the report said. The decline was in part due to a “reduction in travel and per diem costs for members to attend advisory committee meetings.”
The report, made public by Steven Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, said some $205.8 million of that funding went to staff support.
The committees have been subject to oversight since passage of the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act, which was enacted so Congress and the General Services Administration could keep a handle on duplicative or inefficient committees while assuring that their meetings are open to the public, that they conduct proper record-keeping and that appointees adhere to ethics rules.
“Agency heads are responsible for ensuring that the interests and affiliations of advisory committee members are reviewed for conformance with applicable conflict of interest statutes and other federal ethics rules,” the report noted.
Legislation (H.R. 2347) introduced in the current Congress by Rep. William Clay, D-Mo., would create a formal process for the public to recommend potential advisory committee members, tighten ethics standards and require selections to be made on a nonpartisan basis. It passed the House in March but did not move out of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
In June 2010, President Obama made waves with a presidential memorandum that removed all registered lobbyists from federal advisory committees, drawing formal complaints by lobbying groups.