A professor and legislative expert spoke about her latest book, which examines the legislative process on Capitol Hill, during an event hosted by Georgetown University’s government department.
Maya Kornberg, a research fellow at New York University and an adjunct professor at Georgetown, wrote “Inside Congressional Committees: Function and Dysfunction in the Legislative Process” and discussed it with Georgetown students and community members at the March 20 event. Kornberg’s work draws from her doctoral project about how congressional committees are a place of deliberation and learning. She expanded on the project significantly for the next seven years after realizing it was an avenue she wanted to pursue professionally.
At the event, Kornberg outlined problems that plague the field of policymaking, including insufficient staff, pervasive lobbyist involvement and the widespread presence of staunch partisanship and cameras on Capitol Hill.
Despite these issues, Kornberg said she feels students interested in working in government, and specifically on Capitol Hill, should be excited about the opportunities on the horizon that those careers offer.
“I’m definitely an optimist,” Kornberg told The Hoya. “Staff have real power to shape things. They should be encouraged at the amount of power they could have if they worked in Congress. I think there’s a lot of space and room for encouragement.”
In her book, Kornberg proposes reforms to the legislative process such as investing in fostering a skilled and diverse staff on Capitol Hill, creating more spaces for bipartisan relationship-building and rethinking hearing formats to foster a wider impact.
Kornberg said a priority for legislative reform should be reorganizing and modernizing its intricate committee infrastructure.
“The last time that Congress reorganized its committee jurisdictions was in the 1970s, and as a result of that, also as a result of other things, we don’t have one committee with sole jurisdiction over things like the tech industry because it didn’t exist in the 1970s,” Kornberg said at the event. “That and many other issues fall through the cracks more easily when you don’t have a committee dealing with them.”
Kornberg said statistics show that there is truth to the narrative that Congress spends more time arguing with one another than pushing through actual laws.
“We look at Congress today and see a hyperpartisan Congress,” Kornberg said at the event. “Congress today is legislating a lot less; it’s passing less legislation than it was, by far, than decades ago. Legislators are spending about a third of their time legislating, which is crazy given that their job is to be a legislator.”
Kornberg said congressional committees stand out, as the testimonies shared there are authentic and often deeply personal experiences.
“Committees are a space for members to hear from just ordinary American voices,” Kornberg said at the event. “There aren’t that many spaces in Congress for that to happen. It’s not necessarily the scientist from NASA — not that those testimonies are not important — but, the ones that shape them, the ones that they held up, were the WNBA star who grew up on food stamps and the journalist who lived with ISIS and the mother of a sex trafficking victim.”
Kornberg gave attendees an inside look into her research methods while acknowledging the limitations of her work given the vastness of the inner workings of Congress.
“I couldn’t look at all the committees because each chamber has about 20 committees in any given Congress,” Kornberg said at the event. “I chose a sample of eight committees, and the committees that I chose vary in terms of partisanship.”
Georgetown’s location in Washington, D.C., should encourage students to engage with the legislative process on Capitol Hill, according to Kornberg.
“It’s a real luxury to be here in D.C. and be able to just attend congressional hearings and see for yourself what’s going on,” Kornberg told The Hoya.
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