The Texas congressional delegation fell flat in supporting open and effective government in 2017, according to a website that tracks such legislation.
In the annual congressional report cards for 2017, GovTrack.us scored no member of the U.S. House from Texas higher than 92nd. 11 members tied for 317th — meaning they scored zero on the metric.
GovTrack examined whether federal lawmakers supported the 2017 bills the website identified as supporting government transparency, accountability and effectiveness. That list is here.
Each legislator who sponsored a bill got three points, and those who signed on as a co-sponsor got one point.
No member of the Texas delegation sponsored any of the identified better-government bills, but a number of them co-sponsored such legislation. The twelve members of the delegation that tied for 92nd scored two points each.
That list includes Democrat Mark Veasey, who co-sponsored the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act, which would stop the use of taxpayer money to pay settlements or awards for workplace harassment and discrimination claims among members of Congress.
The 1995 Congressional Accountability Act ended a longtime congressional exemption from discrimination and workplace lawsuits by employees, but it also opened the door for taxpayer money to be used to pay settlements in such harassment cases. Since that law passed, about $17 million has been used to pay 264 claims. The recent flood of allegations of sexual assault or harassment against powerful men in Hollywood and Washington, D.C., has sparked an interest in revisiting the 1995 law.
Republicans Lamar Smith and Louie Gohmert were among several lawmakers who earned two points for their support of two acts seeking to stop settlement slush funds. The legislation would essentially stop federal agencies from requiring defendants to donate funds to outside groups as a condition of a settlement agreement.
Those three were joined in 92nd place by Republicans John Culberson, John Ratcliffe, Michael Burgess, Roger Williams, Blake Farenthold, Michael Conaway and Ted Poe, and Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Sheila Jackson Lee.
Josh Tauberer, creator of GovTrack, told The Texas Monitor that for most of the report-card statistics, he doesn’t take a position on whether a higher number is better or worse, but transparency is one metric where he says a higher score is an indicator of good governance.
“As with the other statistics, we post the transparency ranking to help people understand what their representatives are doing,” he said. “But for the transparency ranking, we also hope members of Congress see it and try to improve their score next year.”
The Texas members of the U.S. House who scored zip, zilch, nada on the transparency report card included:
- Republican Jeb Hensarling
- Republican Brian Babin
- Republican Kevin Brady
- Democrat Eddie Johnson
- Republican Sam Johnson
- Republican Pete Sessions
- Democrat Vicente Gonzalez
- Democrat Henry Cuellar
- Republican Michael McCaul
- Republican Randy Weber
- Republican Mac Thornberry
Sam Johnson also fared poorly on the GovTrack report card for attendance, having missed nearly 19 percent of votes in 2017, making him the sixth-most absent member of the House, as The Texas Monitor recently reported.
Tauberer said rather than criticize those lawmakers who scored zero, he’d advise them to listen “to what transparency organizations like Project on Government Oversight, Data Coalition, Issue One, and many others are asking for action on.”
Texas’ two U.S. senators, Republicans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both got two points on the report card, putting them in a tie for ninth. They both co-sponsored a Senate companion bill to the Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act, as well as the Congressional Harassment Reform Act. That legislation would require discrimination and harassment awareness and prevention training for members and employees of Congress within 30 days of employment and annually going forward.
Tauberer cautions that the transparency-bill list was compiled using a quick scan of pending legislation, and some good transparency bills may have been left out of the metrics.
“So, as with most numbers, you have to take it with a grain of salt,” Tauberer said. “It’s a starting point to learn more.”
Johnny Kampis can be reached at [email protected]