Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future
Oct 1, 2002
"There are powerful institutional incentives in the Congress to adopt a short-term horizon: the budget cycle, the end of the fiscal year, the next election. Our daily schedules are so cram-packed with meetings on one short-term problem after another, we scarcely have time to even consider the long-term future."
"I think it is fair to say that people who think that the main role of elected officials is to 'keep government off people's backs' tend not to think of government in an active role - as providing guidance, protection, investment, or even information."
-- Rob McCord
The Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future was designed to alert members to the policy implications of emerging demographic, technological, and economic trends, to help members develop legislative initiatives to address emerging policy challenges, and help members communicate with their constituents on long-range issues. The responsibility of congressional membership demands that thousands of votes are cast each year, most under rushed conditions and frequent elections. Consequently, members are forced to keep short-term constituent needs as the priority. The Clearinghouse was intended to provide members the chance to look beyond hectic schedules, annual budgets, and two-six year election cycles and develop a mechanism that allowed legislators the opportunity to do more than react to crises.
The Clearinghouse was a Legislative Service Organization (LSO) of the Congress founded in 1976 by members of Congress who wanted to bring more foresight into the legislative process. At its height, the Clearinghouse claimed bipartisan membership of more than 100 members of both the House and Senate. By the summer of 1983, 'The Global Foresight Roundtable' had produced three pieces of legislation sponsored by the Clearinghouse, none of which were passed:
Critical Trends Assessment Act would have established a permanent office in the executive branch to facilitate long-term planning
Global Resources, Environment and Population Act would have established an interagency council required to coordinate national planning for population and demographic change.
"Cost-Conscious Congress" initiative would have required the executive branch to "conform" to the recommendations of the Global 2000 Report, a 3-year study of the Carter Administration on the future implications of world population, [natural] resource and environmental trends
Many avenues were attempted to establish the mandate of the Clearinghouse. One initiative asked House Committees to project their big issues for the '80s. The idea was to provide congressmen with a comprehensive catalogue of the issues anticipated by Congress. The request was made in September of 1980. It took more than two years to get the committee's views of the future and compile them. Other types of activities included the proposed development of an automated retrieval system called "FIRST" for "Futures Information Retrieval SysTem" by the Fall of 1978 (see below to access full article dated 7/1/78) - that would have made several thousand forecasts easily accessible to policymakers.
In 1984, the Congressional Institute for the Future was established as the private, non-profit companion to the Clearinghouse to meet the research needs of the caucus. The "institutes" have no legal obligation to Congress and are not subject to congressional ethics rules. By 1991, the Institute was said to have 'close ties' to capitol hill, with an annual budget of about $350,000, mostly from foundation grants. The Institute also developed partnerships with the Office of Technology Assessment and the Council of State Planning Agencies.
In January of 1994, the Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future was dissolved due to new rules for LSOs. The new rules mandated reductions in the personnel costs, forbade caucuses from accepting private donations or government grants, and required them to disclose all finances and activities.
The non-profit Congressional Institute for the Future continued until 1999.
The following information provides a brief introduction to the Clearinghouse and some of its activities.
Goals and Activities of the Clearinghouse
Congressional Oversight Authority
Emerging Policy Issues (1984)
See Memorandum on Emerging Issues
Read Article on Congress' Crystal Balls
Legislation Produced (but never passed)more » « less