Initiative Will Record the Insights of Departing Members of Congress
With 33 members of Congress announcing by April of 2006 that they will not seek re-election at the end of this term of office, New York University’s John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress is launching an unprecedented exit interviews project entitled “The Reflections Project: Retiring Members of Congress Assess the Institution.”
Starting in the closing months of this term and in subsequent terms, the Reflections Project will create the nation’s most extensive repository of first-person accounts, opinions, and anecdotes of Members departing from Congress. The material will help scholars track the evolving nature of the institution, which some Members say is no longer functioning as it should. Some cite intense partisanship, the high cost of running for public office and the pressures of today’s professional political culture as factors in what has become an increasingly difficult legislative process. This project will also provide a touchstone for other Brademas Center activities designed to encourage greater public discussion and understanding of Congress and rigorous study of the body, the People’s Branch of the United States government.
Several retiring Members have expressed keen interest in participating in the project. Three already have agreed to be interviewed. The Center is pleased to announce that U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), chairman of the House International Relations Committee and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee who oversaw the investigation and impeachment of President Clinton, will be the first participant in the Reflections Project.
U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), the chairman of the House Science Committee, a leader on environmental legislation and author of major bills expanding scientific
Research, and U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo (D-MN), former chairman of the House Budget Committee and senior Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security, have also agreed to participate.
“I am truly excited to be a part of this ground-breaking and necessary project to chronicle the history of the United States Congress, as seen through the eyes of its Members,” said U.S. Rep. Boehlert. “I am especially looking forward to reflecting on my 24 years serving the State of New York. I applaud the Brademas Center for launching this initiative and for its dedication to fostering a better understanding of Congress among all citizens.”
U.S. Rep. Sabo said, “The way in which Congress operates has changed since I was elected in the late 70’s and I look forward to exploring these issues through the Brademas Center’s Reflections Project.”
In compiling the oral histories, the Center, which is based at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, will ask departing and newly retired Members of Congress to look back on their careers, some spanning up to 30 years, and to explore what they have learned about the country and the institution. Interviewees will be asked to discuss how Congress changed during their tenure, their views on its decision-making capacity, and why they decided not to seek another term.
Guiding the Reflections Project is Linda Douglass, Senior Fellow at the Brademas
Center and distinguished former chief Capitol Hill correspondent for ABC News.
“In announcing that they will leave Congress, some members cite personal reasons involving family or health,” said Douglass, “but several members feel that Congress is no longer functioning as it should, and are concerned about its ability to meet the needs of the public. Capturing the views of departing Members will provide scholars and others with important insights.”
NYU President Emeritus John Brademas, a former Member of Congress and the founder of the Center, said: “This project, being undertaken by as knowledgeable an observer of the House and Senate as Linda Douglass, with the participation of so many respected lawmakers, will make an invaluable contribution to understanding the institution of Congress.”
The Center will ask Members to participate in one of several ways, ranging from a one-on-one interview with follow-up questions from a select audience of students and
professors, to a one-on-one interview with no audience members present. Interviews will be videotaped or audiotaped for the Reflections archives exclusively or, as worked out in advance, public broadcast on a mutually acceptable timetable. Congress members can also participate by completing a questionnaire composed by the Center.
The John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University seeks to advance the understanding of Congress-its powers, processes and political character-among scholars, students pursuing careers in public service, those working on Capitol Hill and the public. The Center achieves its mission through nonpartisan research, teaching and public outreach events-such as symposia and conferences-focused on the role of Congress in making national policy. Our programming aims to explore issues and problems of the legislative branch from new perspectives. The Center is named for founder John Brademas, NYU President Emeritus and former Member of Congress. www.nyu.edu/brademas
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