Director’s Report March 2014

Date: 
March 1, 2014 (All day)

Dear friends: 

Below are highlights of our recent work at the Center on Congress. One of the items is on our survey research. Again this year, the findings are not good news for Congress. The institution is widely viewed as polarized, weighed down to the point of paralysis by warring interest groups and the competing wishes of campaign donors. Many Americans have given up on Congress. They believe that the only way our government can move forward is by strengthening the presidency.

I think our system does benefit from a strong presidency. But it also needs a strong Congress. We are best off as a nation when the two consult, interact and work together as powerful branches. The Framers of our Constitution saw a vital role for Congress as the branch of government most responsive to the people’s needs and aspirations — an institution that would consider voices independent of the president, and build broad consensus, so that actions from Washington would not seem unilateral.

Our work at the Center often calls attention to Congress’s flaws. We do this not to dwell on the institution’s shortcomings, but to focus attention and citizen energy on helping the national legislature fulfill its intended mission in our system of government.

Thank you for your interest and support. 

With warm regards,

Lee Hamilton

Director, Center on Congress at Indiana University

Survey Research: The Center has a long tradition of using survey research to examine the relationship between citizens and Congress, and to identify areas where the institution can improve its performance. In February we released findings from two surveys — one that asked a group of academic experts to assess Congress’s work in 2013, and a second that polled Americans on how they learn about, interact with, and evaluate Congress and its individual members. Overseeing our survey work is IU political science Professor Ted Carmines, the Center’s Director of Research.

The experts gave Congress a C-minus grade for 2013, faulting members for being less focused on problem-solving than on “the expression of competing ideological viewpoints,” as Dr. Carmines put it. A news release on the experts’ survey is at http://bit.ly/1j7e1XZ

Our survey of the public found 88 percent disapproving of the way Congress is handling its job. “There’s just a major disconnect between what the public expects Congress to do, and their perceptions and evaluations of what Congress actually does,” Dr. Carmines said. A news release on the public survey is at http://bit.ly/1dHVvCb

Media Seminar: We had a capacity crowd of journalists for the Center’s annual seminar to help reporters in Washington understand the federal budget — how it comes together, and how to find good stories in it. In the seminar on Jan. 6, presenters Joe Minarik (Committee for Economic Development), Sudeep Reddy (Wall Street Journal), and Paul Krawzak (Congressional Quarterly) shared insights on the substance, politics and personalities of the budget process, suggested resources and contacts to consult, and took questions from the 40-plus reporters in the room. 

The Center began hosting free budget seminars in 2006, in furtherance of its mission to encourage more depth and perspective in media coverage of congressional action. Partnering with us again this year was our longtime co-host, the National Press Foundation, along with the Regional Reporters Association and POLITICO. A news release on the seminar is at http://bit.ly/ODUan2, audio of the seminar is at http://bit.ly/19V6y5y, and photos are on the Center’s Facebook page.

Teacher recognition and professional development: The Center is a co-sponsor of the American Civic Education Teacher Awards program, which annually selects and showcases three teachers who demonstrate exceptional expertise, dynamism and creativity in motivating students to learn about Congress, the Constitution, and public policy. April 1 is the application deadline for teachers who wish to be considered for the 2014 ACETA; a news release with a link to the online application is at http://bit.ly/Nc1S6Q

Since the ACETA program launched in 2006, our partners have been the Center for Civic Education and the National Education Association. We are pleased to join them in recognizing elementary and secondary educators who are doing exemplary work in preparing young people to become informed and engaged citizens

In the area of teacher training, the Center continues hosting professional development sessions, most recently for teachers in the Miami-Dade (south Florida), Indianapolis and St. Louis areas. This initiative, under the auspices of the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) program, aims to help teachers become conversant enough with TPS and Center resources to train other teachers in their use. For the full array of online interactive tools that the Center offers through the TPS program, see http://www.tpscongress.org/

Online audience grows: The number of visits to the Center’s flagship website (www.centeroncongress.org) grew by a hardy 36 percent during 2013, topping 336,000. The website is a gateway to all the Center’s resources for teachers and students, including our very popular interactive learning modules on Congress. So we can boost the Center’s capacity to develop and disseminate learning tools, the website has a new “Give Now!” button enabling online giving. It’s in the middle of the website homepage; please click-and-give to help us revitalize representative democracy.

In the first two months of 2014, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in followers of the Center’s page on Facebook, where we post regularly about our resources and programs, and invite comments about Congress, civic education, and the citizen’s role in our democracy. “Like” us on Facebook at “Center on Congress at Indiana University.”

Speaking engagements: In early February, Hamilton participated in a panel discussion on challenges to U.S. foreign policy, joining Sen. Richard Lugar and Ambassador Lee A. Feinstein, the incoming Dean of IU’s School of Global and International Studies (SGIS). Moderating the panel was State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf. This was part of a series of events Feb. 7-8 in Naples, Fla., promoting the newly established SGIS at IU, involving Hamilton and Lugar; IU President Michael A. McRobbie; Lauren Robel, IU executive vice president and provost of the Bloomington campus; College of Arts and Sciences Executive Dean Larry Singell; other IU faculty and speakers; and IU alumni in the Naples area.

On campus in Bloomington, Hamilton spoke Feb. 11 to an IU Maurer School of Law class (Legislation & Statutory Interpretation) on the legislative process, and on Feb. 26 to an IU Kelley School of Business group (the Herman B. Wells Honors Leadership Seminar) on the intersection of business & politics. On Feb. 14 he did a film interview on the importance of democracy for IU’s Center for Constitutional Democracy (CCD); he is a member of that Center’s advisory board.