Political Science Professor Receives External Funding


SUMMARY: Tim LaPira received $17,251 to uncover how decades of divestment in Congress's own internal resources affects lawmakers and staffers' capacity to carry out their Constitutional responsibilities.

Dr. Tim LaPira, Associate Professor in the Political Science Department of the College of Arts and Letters, secured a $17,251 grant for, “Congressional Capacity Survey,” from New America, a Washington-based think tank that leads a program on political reform. This is his first awarded grant in which he had to work with the Office of Sponsored Programs. According to Dr. LaPira, the idea for this research project grew out of “The Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group,” a series civic engagement discussion groups for members and staff in Congress sponsored by New America and the R Street Institute, and funded by the Hewlett Foundation’s Madison Initiative.

Congressional capacity refers to the internal resources that Congress collectively has available to perform its role in resolving public problems through its primary tools of legislating, budgeting, holding hearings, and conducting oversight. The project’s focus is on the human beings who do the daily work of Congress — the members of Congress and their staff – and on the procedures and organizational structures that allow these individuals to do their work collectively in the most effective and responsive ways. Both the quality and quantity of what Congress can accomplish is directly related to the time, experience, knowledge, creativity, motivations, and relationships of the persons who do the work of Congress, and the organizational structures they inhabit. There is ample evidence to suggest that the seemingly dysfunctional, highly polarized partisan environment impedes legislative effectiveness, but that may not be the whole story.

Dr. LaPira is the principal investigator of the working group’s collaborative research project, which also includes scholars from Columbia University and the University of Michigan. The first phase of the project – which this grant is funding – is a series of one-on-one interviews to talk with people in Congress about their work environments. This project is intended to uncover how decades of divestment in Congress’s own internal resources affects lawmakers and staffers’ capacity to carry out their Constitutional responsibilities. Maybe, in turn, this can help to inform specific political reform. If Congress and other legislative agencies can work better internally, then the chaos portrayed in the media can start to change.

According to the award document, Dr. LaPira will travel each week to the US Capitol to interview approximately 60 to 70 members and staff in Congress and legislative support agencies, “to assess human asset characteristics of congressional staff like professional experience, institutional memory, policy and political process expertise, cognitive faculties, affective intelligence, judgment capability, and career aspirations.”  Dr. LaPira explained that these interviews are intended to help create material for the second phase of the project, an online questionnaire to reach a larger base of staff and stakeholders. Research in this sector has dropped off since the 1990s. He is hopeful about the success of the interviews and indicates that he is learning a lot.

Additional funds were added to New America’s existing operating grant from their sponsor, the Hewlett Foundation, for Dr. LaPira to do this project. He and New America hope that this bipartisan information can be used in other political science research. They intend to have two publications come from the research. First, following a small conference of roughly thirty political scientists planned for Spring 2018, he will co-edit an academic volume in which scholars collectively use the data from this project to analyze a variety of important questions about legislative behavior and political responsiveness. Second, the research group will publish a series of accessible “white papers” and conduct briefings geared toward recommending improvements on Capitol Hill.

Congratulations to Dr. LaPira for the securing of external funding and happy interviewing!

For more information on New America's Political Reform Program click here.

Published: Monday, March 13, 2017

Last Updated: Monday, March 13, 2017

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