We write to express our deep concern over the lack of a clear and transparent plan for
maintaining congressional operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand this virus
has brought about unprecedented challenges for leaders the world over. However, it has been
nearly two months since “social distancing” measures went into effect in the United States, yet
there continues to be considerable confusion as to whether and how Congress will conduct its
business in the weeks ahead.
The American people need to know that their representatives will continue to govern at this
critical moment. We understand there are difficult questions as to exactly how Congress will
proceed with certain activities, particularly the passage of complex legislation. We do not expect
you to settle all disagreements at once, nor do we expect you to adopt a single path forward for
the House and Senate. But we do believe there are concrete steps you can take right now to
resume essential business and provide much-needed clarity for Members of Congress, the
Capitol Hill workforce, and your constituents in the months to come.
First, we strongly urge you to limit the number of people who must be physically present in the
Capitol complex, and provide clear guidance to those who are. We understand there has been
ongoing confusion as to whether staff (who have largely been working remotely) should resume
working in their Capitol Hill offices, and what protocols those who do return must adopt, such
as whether to wear face masks in public spaces.
Regardless of whether Members of Congress return to Washington, DC, we believe the vast
majority of staff can and should continue working from home. We suggest that the House and
Senate adopt a temporary default-to-remote policy to make clear that staffers should stay home
unless told otherwise. Those who must return need better guidance and basic assistance –
propping open doors, ensuring availability of disinfectant wipes in high-traffic areas – to limit
the virus’s spread. We must protect those public servants and their families who do need to
report to work in person, including Capitol police officers, medics, and contractors, and limit the
potential for the virus to spread elsewhere – when, for example, Members return to their
Second, we encourage you to embrace – and provide clear guidelines for using – technology
that will allow a significant portion of congressional business to continue remotely, particularly
virtual meetings for Committee hearings and oversight. Some have described this as a “digital
first” approach – if it can be done remotely now, then it should be done remotely. We applaud
the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for its recent, virtual hearing on this
exact topic, and hope to see other Committees follow suit. We also commend the House for
enabling Members to introduce bills, add cosponsors, and extend remarks digitally for the time
being, ensuring that this essential legislative function continues even when Members cannot
Third, and related, it is important that public proceedings like hearings remain transparent and
accessible, and are not overtaken by private video or conference calls (as important as those
are). Congress’s public-facing activities are a critical feature of our democracy, and now more
than ever, are needed to show the public that their elected representatives are indeed working
Lastly, while these recommendations are temporary and could be instituted for short durations
– a week or two at a time – it is incumbent upon Congress to prepare for a lengthier disruption
to its operations as a result of this pandemic. Public health officials have warned about the
possibility of a future, subsequent wave of infections.
We urge you to draft emergency preparedness plans now, which can be socialized with Members
ahead of time and relied upon if Members again need to remain in their districts for several
months or longer, later this year or next. And of course, at an appropriate future time, Congress
should address its longstanding continuity of government weaknesses and update
contingencies for the entirety of government, with lessons learned from the current moment.
We thank you for considering these views and for your commitment to the institution.