Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Ida A. Brudnick Analyst on the Congress January 5, 2011 Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov R40962 CRS Report for Congress Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Summary Members of the House of Representatives have one consolidated allowance, the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA), with which to operate their offices. The MRA was first authorized in 1996 and was made subject to regulations and adjustments of the Committee on House Administration. Representatives have a high degree of flexibility to use the MRA to operate their offices in a way that supports their congressional duties and responsibilities, and individual office spending may be as varied as the districts Members represent. The allocation of office spending has been a topic of interest to academics, interest groups, newspapers, and constituents for many years. Information on individual office spending is published in the quarterly Statements of Disbursement of the House, which are currently available in the Legislative Resource Center of the House of Representatives. Following increased interest in the MRA, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in June 2009 directed the then-Chief Administrative Officer to make future statements available on the website of the House of Representatives. The initial release, which was made available on November 30, 2009, contains information on spending for the quarter ending September 30, 2009. During the 111th Congress, legislation was introduced (H.R. 2656, H.R. 3189, H.R. 4761, H.R. 4825, H.R. 5151, H.Res. 1707) to alter the MRA or curtail its growth. The incoming majority for the 112th Congress has also announced its intention to introduce legislation “reducing the amount authorized for salaries and expenses of Member, committee, and leadership offices in 2011 and 2012.” This report provides a history and overview of the MRA and examines spending patterns in the 109th Congress (2005 and 2006). The data exclude non-voting Members, including Delegates and the Resident Commissioner. Members who were not in Congress for all of 2005, whether the Member left Congress prior to the end of the year or entered any time after the beginning of the session, were also excluded. Similarly, Members who were not sworn in at the beginning of the 109th Congress or did not remain until the end of the second session were not included in the analysis of 2006. This limitation resulted in data analyzing 431 Members for 2005 and 426 for 2006. Information is provided on total spending and spending for various categories, including personnel compensation; personnel benefits; travel; rent, utilities, and communications; printing and reproduction; other services; supplies and materials; transportation of things; equipment; and franked mail. The data collected demonstrate that, despite variations when considering all Members, many Members allocate their spending in a similar manner. Congressional Research Service Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Contents Introduction ................................................................................................................................1 Establishment of the MRA ..........................................................................................................2 Subsequent MRA Legislation ......................................................................................................2 Appropriations and Allocations: Varying Authorities and Timelines for Adjustment.....................4 Formula for the Individual MRA.................................................................................................6 Guidelines and Operations ..........................................................................................................8 “Dear Colleague” Letters Related to the MRA.............................................................................9 Categories of Spending, Additional Expenses, and Changes in Accounting..................................9 Statements of Disbursements: Online Publication ...................................................................... 10 The MRA in Practice: An Analysis of the 109th Congress .......................................................... 11 Figures Figure 1. Fiscal Year Appropriations for the Members’ Representational Allowance ....................6 Figure 2. MRA Allowances by Member ......................................................................................8 Figure 3. Expenditures by Category, as a Percentage of Aggregate MRA Spending.................... 12 Figure 4. Dispersion of Spending Across Select Categories: 2005 and 2006............................... 14 Tables Table 1. Variation in MRA Authorization Levels: 1996-2010 .......................................................7 Table 2. Distribution of Office-Level Spending, 2005................................................................ 13 Table 3. Distribution of Office-Level Spending, 2006................................................................ 13 Table 4. Distribution of Spending as a Percentage of Authorization: 2005.................................. 14 Contacts Author Contact Information ...................................................................................................... 15 Acknowledgments .................................................................................................................... 15 Congressional Research Service Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Introduction Congressional office spending has been a regular topic of interest to academics, interest groups, newspapers, and constituents for many years. It is a topic frequently mentioned in newspaper articles that address individual Member spending or generally discuss financial accountability among elected officials, and it has been examined by watchdog organizations and interest groups covering congressional spending on internal operations generally.1 A few scholars have also examined how Members typically spend their office allowances, analyzing spending within broader theories of representation.2 Individual office spending may be as varied as the districts Members represent. Factors affecting spending include the tenure or interests of the Member, levels of casework,3 geography, unexpected events, and even the congressional calendar. While Representatives have a high degree of flexibility to operate their offices in a way that supports their congressional duties and responsibilities, they must operate within a number of restrictions and regulations. The Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA), the allowance provided to Members of the House of Representatives to operate their DC and district offices, 4 may only support Members in their official and representational duties. It may not be used for personal or campaign purposes. Additional regulations or restrictions regarding reimbursable expenses may be promulgated by the Committee on House Administration, the Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards, also known as the Franking Commission, and the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, and may be found in a wide variety of sources, including statute, House rules, committee resolution, the Members’ Handbook,5 the Franking Manual,6 the House Ethics Manual, “Dear Colleague” letters, and formal and informal guidance. 7 This report provides a history of the MRA and overview of recent developments and expenditures. It also demonstrates actual MRA spending patterns in the 109th Congress (20052006) for all voting Members who served for a defined period. 8 Spending and practices across 1 For example, the “House Expense Study” by the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), available at http://www.ntu.org/ main/misc.php?MiscID=5. 2 Burdett Loomis and Wendy Schiller, The Contemporary Congress, 5th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thompson-Wadsworth, 2006), Ch. 7-8; Richard F. Fenno, Jr., Congressmen in Committees (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973), p. 1; David Mayhew, Congress: The Electoral Connection (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p. 49; and, Gary W. Cox and Jonathan N. Katz, “Why Did the Incumbency Advantage in the U.S. House Elections Grow?” American Journal of Political Science, vol. 40, no. 2 (May 1996), pp. 479-481. One study of MRA expenditures during the 106th Congress, for example, examined the effect of a Member’s standing within the House, time in office, and plans for retirement or reelection on spending (Garry Young, “Choosing How to Represent: House Members and the Distribution of Their Representational Allowances,” updated version of a paper presented at the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, April 7, 2005, pp. 15-18, available at http://home.gwu.edu/~youngg/research/ Homestyle%20Choices%20v3.02.pdf). 3 For additional information, see CRS Report RL33209, Casework in a Congressional Office: Background, Rules, Laws, and Resources, by R. Eric Petersen 4 For additional information on the resources available to Members of Congress, see CRS Report RL30064, Congressional Salaries and Allowances, by Ida A. Brudnick. 5 Available at http://cha.house.gov/PDFs/MembersHandbook.pdf. 6 Available at http://cha.house.gov/PDFs/franking/franking2.pdf. 7 Available at http://ethics.house.gov/Media/PDF/2008_House_Ethics_Manual.pdf. 8 Information on spending by certain Members was excluded from the observation data and summary findings because of characteristics related to the district or status or tenure of the Member. Non-voting Members, including the Delegates and the Resident Commissioner have been subject to the same expense formula as other Members since January, 1, 1983 (P.L. 97-357, 96 Stat 1711, Oct. 19, 1982), although the distance from D.C., size of population, or (continued...) Congressional Research Service 1 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage offices and across time vary, and an examination of multiple Congresses would be required for a more complete picture of congressional office spending patterns. Establishment of the MRA The MRA, which was first authorized in 1996, was preceded by multiple allowances for each Member covering different categories of spending—including the former clerk hire allowance, official expenses allowances, and official mail allowance. The establishment of the MRA followed efforts by the House, dating back to the late 1970s, to move to a system of increased flexibility and accountability for Member office operations.9 In September 1995, the Committee on House Administration authorized the consolidation of these allowances. 10 Subsequently, in November 1995, the FY1996 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act combined the separate appropriations for personal office staff, official office expenses, and mail costs into a single new appropriations heading, “Members’ Representational Allowances.”11 According to the House Appropriations Committee report on the FY1996 bill, the consolidation was adopted to simplify Members’ accounting practices and allowed Members to more easily show savings achieved when they did not spend all of their allowance. 12 Subsequent legislation in 1996 further defined the MRA and made it subject to regulations and adjustments adopted by the Committee on House Administration. 13 Additional provisions included in the FY2000 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act amended language regarding official mail and repealed obsolete language and terms. 14 Subsequent MRA Legislation The annual legislative branch or omnibus appropriations acts provide funding for the MRA. Since its establishment, these acts have also generally contained language requiring amounts remaining in the MRA “be used for deficit reduction or to reduce the federal debt.”15 (...continued) both, may vary greatly from other Members. Members who were not in Congress for all of 2005, whether the Member left Congress prior to the end of the year or entered any time after the beginning of the session, were excluded from the calculations from that year since spending for any portion may not be reflective of allocations for an uninterrupted year. Similarly, Members who were not sworn in at the beginning of the 109th Congress or did not remain until the end of the second session were not included in the analysis of 2006. This limitation resulted in data for 431 Members for 2005 and 426 Members for 2006. 9 See, for example, House Administration Committee Orders 35, 38, 39, and 40 (effective May 1, 1983; August 1, 1985; March 15, 1990; and May 8, 1991, respectively). These are reprinted within the notes for 2 U.S.C. 57. 10 Committee Order No. 41, effective September 1, 1995, in notes to 2 U.S.C. 57. 11 P.L. 104-53, 109 Stat. 519 (Nov. 19, 1995). 12 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, 1996, report to accompany H.R. 1854, 104th Cong., 1st sess., H.Rept. 104-141 (Washington: GPO, 1995), p. 10. 13 P.L. 104-186, 110 Stat. 1719 (Aug. 20, 1996); 2 U.S.C. 57b. 14 P.L. 106-57, 113 Stat. 415 (Sept. 29, 1999). 15 Annual legislative branch appropriations bills with this language include P.L. 104-53, P.L. 104-197, P.L. 105-55, P.L. 105-275, P.L. 106-57, P.L. 106-554, P.L. 107-68, P.L. 108-7, P.L. 108-83, P.L. 108-447, P.L. 109-55, P.L. 110161, P.L. 111-8, and P.L. 111-68. These provisions were added by the following amendments before being (continued...) Congressional Research Service 2 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage In addition to the appropriations language, numerous bills and resolutions addressing the MRA have been introduced. The majority have been referred to the Committee on House Administration. This legislation has generally fallen into three major categories: • Attempts to change the MRA procedure or regulate, authorize, or encourage the use of funds for a particular purpose. 16 • Stand-alone legislation that would govern the use of unexpended balance, including language to require these funds to go toward deficit reduction.17 (...continued) incorporated into the bill as reported in subsequent years: H.Amdt. 458 to H.R. 1854, 104th Cong. (Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 1996); H.Amdt. 287 to H.R. 3754 (Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 1997), 104th Cong.; H.Amdt. 287 to H.R. 2209, 105th Cong. (Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 1998); H.Amdt. 166 to H.R. 1905, 106th Cong. (Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2000); H.Amdt. 865 to H.R. 4516, 106th Cong. (Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2001). 16 For example: H.R. 5151, 111th Cong., Congressional Oversight and Spending Transparency (COST) Act of 2010; H.Res. 1707, 111th Cong., Holding Congress Accountable Resolution of 2010; H.R. 5598, 110th Cong., To establish a program under which employing offices of the House of Representatives may agree to reimburse employees for child care expenses, and for other purposes; H.Res. 1186, 110th Cong., Prohibiting the use of funds in a Members’ Representational Allowance for the long-term lease of a vehicle; H.R. 6, 110th Cong., Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007; H.Res. 879, 109th Cong., Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Members of the House of Representatives should use alternative fuel vehicles in their professional and personal lives; H.R. 5338, 109th Cong., CLEAR Act; H.R. 2106, 108th Cong., To permit Members of the House of Representatives to use funds provided in Member’s Representational Allowances to obtain POW/MIA flags and distribute them to constituents; and, H.R. 1046, 105th Cong., To allow each Member of the House of Representatives to hire one additional employee, if the employee is hired from the welfare rolls, and to provide that, if such employment is in the District of Columbia, the jurisdiction represented by the Member may count the employment toward its welfare participation rate requirement. 17 These include H.R. 4825, 111th Cong., To direct unused appropriations for Members’ Representational Allowances to be deposited in the Treasury and used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt; H.R. 2656, 111th Cong., To require amounts remaining in Members’ representational allowances at the end of a fiscal year to be used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt, and for other purposes; H.R. 272, 110th Cong., To require amounts remaining in Members’ representational allowances at the end of a fiscal year to be used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt, and for other purposes; H.R. 267,109th Cong., To require amounts remaining in Members’ representational allowances at the end of a fiscal year to be used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt, and for other purposes; H.R. 1273, 109th Cong., To require any amounts remaining in a Member’s Representational Allowance at the end of a fiscal year to be deposited in the Treasury and used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt; H.R. 297, 108th Cong., To require any amounts remaining in a Member’s Representational Allowance at the end of a fiscal year to be deposited in the Treasury and used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt; H.R. 921, 108th Cong., To require amounts remaining in Members’ representational allowances at the end of a fiscal year to be used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt, and for other purposes; H.R. 2412, 108th Cong., To require any amounts appropriated for Members’ Representational Allowances for the House of Representatives for a session of Congress that remain after all payments are made from such Allowances for the session to be deposited in the Treasury and used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt; H.R. 47, 107th Cong., To require any amounts appropriated for Members’ Representational Allowances for the House of Representatives for a fiscal year that remain after all payments are made from such Allowances for the year to be deposited in the Treasury and used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt; H.R. 2414, 107th Cong., To require any amounts appropriated for Members’ Representational Allowances for the House of Representatives for a fiscal year that remain after all payments are made from such Allowances for the year to be deposited in the Treasury and used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt; H.R. 431, 106th Cong., To require any amounts appropriated for Members’ Representational Allowances for the House of Representatives for a fiscal year that remain after all payments are made from such Allowances for the year to be deposited in the Treasury and used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt; H.R. 2117, 106th Cong., To require any amounts appropriated for Members’ Representational Allowances for the House of Representatives for a session of Congress that remain after all payments are made from such Allowances for the session to be deposited in the Treasury and used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt; H.R. 2171, 106th Cong., To require any amounts appropriated for Members’ Representational Allowances for the House of Representatives for a fiscal year that remain after all payments are made from such Allowances for the year to be deposited in the Treasury (continued...) Congressional Research Service 3 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage • Bills that would limit or change the growth of overall MRA or adjustment among Members.18 One of the bills, H.R. 4825, which would require amounts remaining in the MRA to be used for deficit reduction or to reduce the federal debt, was agreed to in the House on March 17, 2010.19 The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and no further action was taken. On January 4, 2011, the incoming majority for the 112th Congress also announced its intention to introduce legislation “reducing the amount authorized for salaries and expenses of Member, committee, and leadership offices in 2011 and 2012.”20 The text posted on the website of the House Rules Committee states that the MRA allowances for these years may not exceed 95 percent of the amount established for 2010. Appropriations and Allocations: Varying Authorities and Timelines for Adjustment Allowances for Members of the House are authorized in statute and are regulated and adjusted by the Committee on House Administration pursuant to 2 U.S.C. 57 et seq. and House Rule X(1)(j). The individual MRAs for the 441 Members, Delegates, and the Resident Commissioner are authorized for periods that correspond closely to the sessions of Congress—from January 3 of each year through January 2 of the following year. Funding for all MRAs, however, corresponds to the fiscal year (beginning October 1) and a total amount is provided under a single appropriations heading, “Members’ Representational Allowances,” within the House account “Salaries and Expenses” contained in the annual legislative branch appropriations bills. In addition to the complexity involved in different time frames and split responsibilities—with the appropriation on a fiscal year determined by the Committee on Appropriations, and the authorization roughly following the calendar year as allocated by the Committee on House Administration—the House has indicated that the total authorized level for all MRAs may not equal the total appropriation due to projections on spend-out rates. The FY1997 report accompanying the legislative branch appropriations bill, for example, stated: (...continued) and used for deficit reduction or to reduce the Federal debt; H.R. 866, 105th Cong., To provide that Members of the House of Representatives may return unused amounts from the Members’ Representational Allowance to the Treasury for deficit reduction; H.R. 80, 105th Cong., To require the return of excess amounts from the representational allowances of Members of the House of Representatives to the Treasury for deficit reduction; H.R. 572, 104th Cong., To provide for return of excess amounts from official allowances of Members of the House of Representatives to the Treasury for deficit reduction; H.R. 376, 104th Cong., To provide for return of excess amounts from official allowances of Members of the House of Representatives to the Treasury for deficit reduction; H.R. 26, 104th Cong., To provide for return of excess amounts from official allowances of Members of the House of Representatives to the Treasury for deficit reduction. 18 For example: H.R. 3189, 111th Cong., Reduction of Irresponsible MRA Growth Act; and H.R. 4761, 111th Cong., Congressional Belt-Tightening Act of 2010. 19 Congressional Record, March 17, 2010, pp. H1542-H1544. 20 Text is posted on the website of the House Rules Committee: http://rules-republicans.house.gov/Media/PDF/ REDUCE112_xml%20%282%29.pdf Congressional Research Service 4 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Many Members do not expend their full allowance. That is why the Committee bill does not fully fund this account. The frugality of those Members is already projected in the bill presented by the Committee. Since these prospective savings are already taken in the bill, they reduce the need for appropriated funds and, therefore, contribute directly to the reduction in federal spending and consequently lower the projected deficit. If the Committee bill were to fully fund the Members’ Representational Allowance, the amount appropriated would have to be increased by $27 million. Thus, the account is underfunded by almost 7%.21 A similar discussion of the use of prior spending patterns in the consideration of MRA appropriations levels has been included in numerous other House reports.22 It was also discussed during a hearing on the FY2009 legislative branch appropriations requests.23 Figure 1 shows the appropriation for the entire MRA account for all Members from FY1999 through FY2010 in current and constant dollars. In current dollars, this is equivalent to an annual rate of change of 5.08% from FY1999 to FY2010. The appropriation decreased slightly from FY2005 to FY2006 (-0.84%), while the largest annual increase (13.15%) was provided in FY2002. 21 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, 1997, H.Rept. 104657, report to accompany H.R. 3754 (Washington, GPO: 1996) p. 11. 22 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, 1996, H.Rept. 104141, report to accompany H.R. 1854 (Washington, GPO: 1995) p. 12; U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, 1998, H.Rept. 105-196, report to accompany H.R. 2209 (Washington, GPO: 1997) p. 10; U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, 1999, H.Rept. 105-595, report to accompany H.R. 4112 (Washington, GPO: 1998) p. 10; U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, 2000, H.Rept. 106-156, report to accompany H.R. 1905 (Washington, GPO: 1999) p. 11; U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, 2001, H.Rept. 106-635, report to accompany H.R. 4516 (Washington, GPO: 2000) p. 11; U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, 2010, H.Rept. 111–160, report to accompany H.R. 2918 (Washington, GPO: 2009) p. 8. 23 At this hearing, Chief Administrative Office Dan Beard indicated that the appropriation “is usually 92 or 93 percent of the authorization.” U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, Legislative Branch Appropriations for 2009, hearings, 110th Cong., 2nd sess., April 9, 2008 (Washington: GPO, 2008), pp. 518-519, 528-529. Congressional Research Service 5 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Figure 1. Fiscal Year Appropriations for the Members’ Representational Allowance (current and constant dollars: FY1999-FY2010) $700,000,000 Budget Authority $600,000,000 $500,000,000 $400,000,000 $300,000,000 $200,000,000 $100,000,000 10 20 08 09 20 20 06 07 20 20 04 05 20 20 02 03 20 20 01 20 00 20 19 99 $0 Fiscal Year Current Dollars Constant Dollars Source: CRS calculations based upon annual legislative branch appropriations acts. Constant dollars based on Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor). Base year = 1999. Formula for the Individual MRA The MRA for each Member is set by the Committee on House Administration based on three components: personnel, official office expenses, and official (franked) mail. The personnel allowance component is the same for each Member. The office expenses and mail allowances components vary from Member to Member. The office expense component includes a base amount; a mileage allowance, which is calculated based on the distance between a Member’s district and Washington, DC; and an office space allowance, which is based on the cost of office space in Member’s district. The official mail component is calculated based on the number of non-business addresses in a Member’s district. The three components result in a single MRA authorization for each Representative that can be used to pay for official expenses. 24 Table 1 demonstrates the variation in authorization levels that resulted from this formula since 1996. Figure 2 presents this information graphically. 24 For the most recent formula, see U.S. Congress, House, Statement of Disbursements of the House, as compiled by the Chief Administrative Officer, from January 1, 2010, to March 31, 2010, part 3 of 3, H.Doc. 111-102, 111th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 2009), pp. 3623. Congressional Research Service 6 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Table 1.Variation in MRA Authorization Levels: 1996-2010 Year Minimum Average (Mean) Maximum Lower Quartile (25th Percentile) 1996 $824,671 $886,751 $1,026,976 $865,420 $881,682 $902,167 1997 $836,231 $901,165 $1,038,535 $879,620 $896,606 $918,490 1998 $854,904 $919,396 $1,056,176 $897,967 $914,672 $936,395 1999 $885,424 $952,102 $1,088,405 $930,137 $947,661 $967,940 2000 $914,895 $985,831 $1,122,018 $962,571 $981,204 $1,001,807 2001 $1,009,420 $1,081,069 $1,216,831 $1,057,403 $1,076,568 $1,097,123 2002 $1,043,283 $1,114,319 $1,258,737 $1,089,931 $1,109,598 $1,130,975 2003 $1,116,519 $1,191,527 $1,338,831 $1,166,075 $1,186,107 $1,212,784 2004 $1,152,825 $1,234,976 $1,370,805 $1,206,116 $1,228,892 $1,258,233 2005 $1,188,715 $1,286,784 $1,524,617 $1,253,938 $1,278,424 $1,310,388 2006 $1,218,685 $1,335,086 $1,574,753 $1,301,692 $1,326,374 $1,360,650 2007 $1,262,065 $1,356,251 $1,600,539 $1,322,060 $1,346,203 $1,383,810 2008 $1,299,292 $1,393,391 $1,637,766 $1,359,350 $1,383,430 $1,420,454 2009 $1,391,370 $1,484,174 $1,722,242 $1,451,041 $1,475,849 $1,510,755 2010 $1,428,395 $1,522,114 $1,759,575 $1,488,258 $1,513,947 $1,549,464 Median (50th Percentile) Upper Quartile (75th Percentile) Source: CRS calculations based on the Statements of Disbursements for 1996-2010 (in current dollars). Notes: The data for 1996 through 2010 are based on the lists contained in the Statement of Disbursements for the first quarter (January-March) of each calendar year. The calculations exclude non-voting Members, including Delegates and the Resident Commissioner. Members elected by special election and sworn in during the first quarter are also excluded since their allowance level is prorated. Congressional Research Service 7 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Figure 2. MRA Allowances by Member 1996-2010 $2,000,000 $1,800,000 $1,600,000 $1,400,000 $1,200,000 $1,000,000 $800,000 $600,000 $400,000 $200,000 $1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 Years Average Minimum Maximum Source: CRS calculations based on the Statements of Disbursements including expenses for 1996-2010 (in current dollars). Notes: The data for 1996 through 2010 are based on the lists contained in the Statement of Disbursements for the first quarter (January-March) of each calendar year. The calculations exclude non-voting Members, including Delegates and the Resident Commissioner. Members elected by special election and sworn in during the first quarter are also excluded since their allowance level is prorated. Guidelines and Operations Expenses related to official and representational duties are reimbursable under the MRA in accordance with the regulations contained in this Members’ Congressional Handbook. The Handbook states that a “Member is personally responsible for the payment of any official and representational expenses incurred that exceed the provided MRA or that are incurred but are not reimbursable under these regulations.”25 Certain other expenses, including personal expenses, greeting cards, alcoholic beverages, and most gifts and donations, are also not reimbursable. Other limitations on the use of official funds are also contained in House Rule XXIV. The MRA is not transferable between years, and unspent funds from one year cannot be obligated in any subsequent year. To assist Members with budgeting, the House makes information regularly available to each Member regarding the actual amount spent and remaining balances. 25 The Members’ Handbook is available at http://cha.house.gov/PDFs/MembersHandbook.pdf. Congressional Research Service 8 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage “Dear Colleague” Letters Related to the MRA “Dear Colleague” letters—which are distributed among Members, committees, and officers— frequently mention the MRA. 26 These “Dear Colleague” letters announce changes in the dissemination of information or the processing of vouchers, elaborate on procedures, remind Members and staff of guidelines on the use of funds, and ask for support for MRA legislation. The Committee on House Administration, for example, has distributed “Dear Colleagues” explaining regulations on the use of the MRA for regular expenses, such as cellular phone and cable television service, insurance, newspaper subscriptions, warranties, and certain equipment purchases.27 Other reminders have been sent regarding allowable franking and MRA expenses for the annual Congressional Art Competition or travel for a Member’s funeral service. 28 Many MRA changes addressed by “Dear Colleague” letters are often annual or administrative, such as changes to the maximum allowable employee pay rate or efforts to reduce paperwork and streamline payment processing.29 The letters have also contained explanations of new regulations, including provisions in the Energy Independence and Security Act (P.L. 110-140) requiring future vehicles leased under the MRA to meet low greenhouse gas emitting vehicle standards set by the EPA.30 Categories of Spending, Additional Expenses, and Changes in Accounting House spending is categorized by the standard budget object classes used for the federal government.31 These include • personnel compensation; • personnel benefits; • travel; 26 For additional information on “Dear Colleague” letters, see CRS Report RL34636, “Dear Colleague” Letters: Current Practices, by Jacob R. Straus. 27 Dear Colleague Letter from Robert A. Brady, Chair of the Committee on House Administration, and Vernon J. Ehlers, Ranking Member of the Committee on House Administration, “Processing Year-End Expenses and Obligations,” December 17, 2007; and Dear Colleague Letter from Robert A. Brady, Chair of the Committee on House Administration, “Processing Year-End Expenses and Obligations,” December 1, 2008. 28 Dear Colleague Letter from Representative Michael N. Castle, “2009 Congressional Art Competition,” January 28, 2009; and Dear Colleague Letter from Robert A. Brady, Chair of the Committee on House Administration, “Use of Official Funds for Funeral Travel,” August 22, 2008. 29 Dear Colleague Letter from Jay Eagen, CAO of the House, “Revised Maximum Rate of Pay for Employees in Member Offices,” January 14, 2003; Dear Colleague Letter from Jay Eagen, CAO of the House, “Consolidated Billing from the Capitol Historical Society, September 11, 2003; and Dear Colleague Letter from Jay Eagen, CAO of the House, “Notification of Improvements to Mail Services,” July 14, 2006. 30 Dear Colleague Letter from Daniel P. Beard, Chief Administrative Officer of the House, “Official Wheels Going Green!” May 19, 2008; and Dear Colleague Letter from Daniel P. Beard, Chief Administrative Officer of the House, “Low Greenhouse Gas Emitting Vehicle Lease Requirements,” November 20, 2008. 31 This classification system is derived from U.S. Office of Management and Budget, OMB Circular A-11, 2009 edition, http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/Circulars_a11_current_year_a11_toc/. Congressional Research Service 9 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage • rent, communications, and utilities; • printing and reproduction; • other services; • supplies and materials;32 • transportation of things; and • equipment. The disbursement volumes also contain a category for franked mail. Certain costs are not included in the MRA and will not be reflected in these totals. The costs include the salaries of Members33 and certain benefits—including health and life insurance and retirement—for both Members and staff. Additionally, the range of items that may be covered by an office, as well as payment ceilings, have changed over time. For example, in a “Dear Colleague” letter of April 20, 2009, the Committee on House Administration announced that effective June 1, 2009, the transit benefit program would be administered centrally and available to all qualifying House employees. Previously, Members could determine whether or not to provide the transit benefit to their employees from the MRA.34 Those who offered this benefit would record the expenditure under the personnel benefits category. In addition to administrative changes, the maximum authorized level has also changed a number of times since the establishment of the program. The House increased the maximum per month from $100 to $105,35 for example, effective January 1, 2005, immediately preceding the period of study for this report. Statements of Disbursements: Online Publication The Statements of Disbursements are published as House documents and have been made available in the Legislative Resource Center. On June 3, 2009, then-Speaker of the House Nancy 36 Pelosi directed the then-Chief Administrative Officer to begin publishing the statements online. The disbursements for the quarter ending September 30, 2009, were made available on the House of Representatives website, House.gov, on November 30, 2009.37 32 33 This may include, for example: office supplies, bottled water, and publication/reference material. Member pay is included in a permanent appropriation (P.L. 97-51; 95 Stat. 966; Sept. 11, 1981). 34 The Transit Pass Transportation Fringe Benefit Program was established the following year with the passage of the Federal Employees Clean Air Incentives Act (P.L. 103-172, Dec. 2, 1993). 35 Employees may receive either their actual commuting costs or the maximum, whichever is less. The current maximum level is $230. 36 Letter from then-Speaker Pelosi to Chief Administrative Office Dan Beard, June 3, 2009, available from the author. 37 The disbursements are available at http://disbursements.house.gov/. Congressional Research Service 10 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage The MRA in Practice: An Analysis of the 109th Congress The tables and figures below demonstrate the use of the MRA in practice in the 109th Congress. This information does not include trends across Congresses or analysis of the influence of characteristics of congressional districts.38 However, various aspects of the MRA are explored, including (1) the billing cycle; (2) a relative consistency in the overall allocation of MRA resources by category of spending across the first and second session of the 109th Congress; and (3) similar spending patterns in many individual offices despite some variations. Disbursement reports for 12 quarters were examined for each year analyzed, since late-arriving bills may be paid for up to two years following the end of the MRA year.39 The period for latearriving bills does not provide flexibility in the timing of spending, a point noted in the Members’ Congressional Handbook, which states: “all expenses incurred will be charged to the allowance available on the date the services were provided or the expenses were incurred” and the “MRA is not transferable between years.”40 While Members could only obligate 2005 MRA expenditures from January 3, 2005, until January 2, 2006, the funds remained available for late-arriving receipts through the quarter ending December 31, 2007. While some bills, particularly from outside vendors, may arrive up to eight quarters after the end of the MRA year, the vast majority of billing (94% and 95% in 2005 and 2006, respectively) occurred during the session or in the quarter immediately following the close of the MRA year. For example, the first quarter of 2006 accounted for 83%, or $24.6 million, of all out-year billing for MRA year 2005. Billing for some categories—like personnel compensation—is almost entirely within the disbursements for the calendar year of study.41 By including data from all 12 quarters during which bills could be paid, it is possible to provide a more complete picture of spending patterns. The largest category of spending in each year of the 109th Congress, accounting for just over 70% of total MRA spending for all Members (as seen in Figure 3), is for personnel compensation. This dwarfs the next largest category, “Communications, Rent, and Utilities,” which accounts for just under 7.5% of MRA spending for all Members in each year. “Equipment,” “Franked Mail,” “Printing and Reproduction,” and “Travel” each account for approximately 4%-4.5% of spending by all Members in 2005 and 2006. 38 These may include, for example: the cost-of-living in the districts from which Members are elected; actual transportation costs to and from the district or around the district; geographical size of the district; number of people living in the district; or other characteristics of a district that may influence spending patterns, including varying expectations among constituents for different levels or types of contact. 39 The two-year time period for late receipts mirrors the availability of appropriations of the House and Senate. The shorter time period for Congress relative to much of the rest of the federal government is discussed in Principles Of Federal Appropriations Law. This publication states: “For appropriations of the House and Senate, unobligated balances more than 2 years old cannot be used short of an act of Congress. Instead, obligations chargeable to appropriations that have been expired for more than 2 years ‘shall be liquidated from any appropriations for the same general purpose, which, at the time of payment, are available for disbursement.’ 2 U.S.C. § 102a.” United States General Accounting Office, Principles Of Federal Appropriations Law, Third Edition, vol. I, January 2004 http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/3rdEditionVol1.pdf, page 5-76 – 5-77. 40 The Members’ Handbook is available at http://cha.house.gov/PDFs/MembersHandbook.pdf. 41 Since the MRA is available through January 2, but the Statements for the fourth quarter run through December 31, personnel compensation for January 1 and January 2 in an MRA year will usually appear in the volume for the subsequent calendar year (January 1-March 31), under a heading indicating that it is billed to the previous MRA year. Congressional Research Service 11 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Figure 3. Expenditures by Category, as a Percentage of Aggregate MRA Spending Source: CRS calculations based on the Statements of Disbursements including expenses for 2005 and 2006. Notes: “Other” includes the “Miscellaneous,” “Other Services,” and “Personnel Benefits” categories, which were combined due to their size. The figures only represent spending supported by the MRA. For example, this does not include government contributions for employee benefits (which are paid through another House account), the cost of DC office space, and various services provided by other House administrative offices. Although spending patterns show many similarities between the two years, the data has not been aggregated for the entire Congress since MRA years are not transferable. Since aggregate House data may not be typical or representative of any individual office, Table 2 and Table 3 provide a distributional analysis of office level data. Figure 4 presents office level distributions graphically. As with the figures on House-wide total Member office spending in Figure 3, however, the office level data indicate that personnel compensation is by far the largest category of expense for Member offices, although actual spending varied widely. Data on various categories of spending across offices also demonstrate that, while some offices incur greater costs in particular areas (as a proportion of total spending for that office), similar patterns have developed across the House despite the movement over the past few decades toward additional flexibility. While spending on personnel compensation ranged from approximately 50% to nearly 90% of the individual MRA spending in both years, half of all Members allocated between approximately 67% and 76% of their total spending to personnel compensation. Similarly, the maximum and minimum percentage of spending on franked mail; travel; and rent, communications, and utilities varied across Members—from nearly zero to around 15% of total spending—but spending for many Members was clustered close to the median for all Members in each category. 42 42 A mean and median that are equal indicate a “normal distribution,” with data that is not skewed greatly in either direction by distant observations, or outliers. For the 2005 and 2006 data on these spending categories, the mean and median were nearly equal, implying close to normal distribution. Congressional Research Service 12 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Table 2. Distribution of Office-Level Spending, 2005 (percentage of total spending of an individual MRA on select categories) Franked Mail Personnel Compensation Travel Rent, Communications, & Utilities Maximum percentage of total spending 16% 89% 13% 15% Minimum percentage of total spending 0% 50% 0% 2% Average percentage of total spending (Mean) 4% 71% 4% 8% Lower Quartile (25th percentile) 2% 67% 3% 6% Median (50th percentile) 4% 71% 4% 7% Upper Quartile (75th percentile) 6% 76% 5% 9% Source: CRS calculations based on the Statement of Disbursements covering spending for 2005. Table 3. Distribution of Office-Level Spending, 2006 (percentage of total spending of an individual MRA on select categories) Franked Mail Personnel Compensation Travel Rent, Communications, & Utilities Maximum percentage of total spending 14% 90% 13% 14% Minimum percentage of total spending 0% 53% 0% 2% Average percentage of total spending (Mean) 4% 71% 4% 7% Lower Quartile (25th percentile) 2% 66% 2% 6% Median (50th percentile) 4% 71% 4% 7% Upper Quartile (75th percentile) 6% 76% 5% 8% Source: CRS calculations based on the quarterly Statement of Disbursements covering spending for 2006. Congressional Research Service 13 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Figure 4. Dispersion of Spending Across Select Categories: 2005 and 2006 (percentage of individual MRA) Source: CRS calculations based on the quarterly Statement of Disbursements including expenses for 2005 and 2006. Notes: The shaded area shows the middle range of spending, covering spending that falls within 25% and 75% of all Members (the interquartile range) in the data for that year. The horizontal line inside the shaded box represents the median, or the spending level of the middle Member. An equal number of Members spent above and below this line. The vertical lines and dots indicate spending outside the 25th and 75th percentiles. The dots (outliers) represent observations that are a distance greater than [1.5 multiplied by the interquartile range] from the 25th and 75th percentiles. Members of the House differed in their actual spending as a proportion of the total authorization, although these percentages as a whole varied little between 2005 and 2006. The distribution for 2005 (Table 4) indicates that 16.24% of Members spent less than 90% of their allocation and 37.59% spent less than 95% of the total amount available in 2005. The findings for 2006 are very similar. In that year, 13.62% of Members spent less than 90% and 37.79% spent less than 95%. Table 4. Distribution of Spending as a Percentage of Authorization: 2005 Number of Members Percentage of Members <60% 60-65 65-70 70-75 75-80 80-85 85-90 90-95 >95% 1 0 0 3 7 17 42 92 269 0.23% 0.00% 0.00% 0.70% 1.62% 3.94% 9.74% 21.35% 62.41% Source: CRS calculations based on the Statement of Disbursements including expenses for 2005. n=431. Notes: Percentages may not equal 100% due to rounding. Congressional Research Service 14 Members’ Representational Allowance: History and Usage Author Contact Information Ida A. Brudnick Analyst on the Congress ibrudnick@crs.loc.gov, 7-6460 Acknowledgments Sarah J. Eckman assisted in the preparation of this report and Susan Smelcer, Eric Petersen, and Amber Wilhelm assisted in the preparation of the figures. Congressional Research Service 15