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Latest coronavirus relief bill looks to boost congressional tech capabilities

Proposed legislation seeks to improve work-from-home capabilities during pandemic

Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. (CQ Roll Call)

Perhaps the video conferencing glitches have taken a toll, because House Democrats want to bolster the technological capability of Congress in the next coronavirus relief package.

The latest legislative iteration crafted to pull the country out of an economic crater caused by the coronavirus — clocking in at more than $3 trillion — proposes to inject the legislative branch with $5 million to support enhanced remote-working demands.

This would provide more satellite phones, mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and updated satellite bandwidth technologies to address increasing district office workloads during the pandemic. The money would also help fund the newly formed Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

That panel is led by Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

Republican leaders have been critical of the committee, calling it an additional, unnecessary oversight entity over the $2 trillion in relief money approved by Congress and one they say will use the opportunity to target President Donald Trump.

Ultimately, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California thought it better to have a seat at the table and named his Republican picks last week.

The so-called “HEROS Act” would authorize the Architect of the Capitol — in case of an emergency — to reimburse its employees for their commuting expenses between their homes and work. This is intended to account for substantially scaled back Metro and other public transportation services in Washington during the pandemic.

The bill, which was prepared by Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, would also allocate $30 million for the Government Accountability Office to conduct federal oversight regarding the coronavirus response.

In its current form, the measure will face strong criticism and pushback from Republicans and is likely an opening salvo as the attention will turn to the Republican-controlled Senate for something to make it into law.

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