The Holman Rule: Congress vs the bureaucrats

June 8th, 2018

Arcane procedural maneuvers are usually reserved for the Senate. But this week in the House, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) resurrected a House rule from 1876 in a bid to take down a bureaucrat.

On Thursday, the House considered Gosar’s amendment to reduce the salary of Mark Gabriel, the Administrator of the Western Power Administration, to just $1. Gabriel has faced criticism for his handling of embezzlement within the administration, for alleged whistleblower reprisals, and for spurning congressional attempts at oversight.

In a letterto his colleagues, Gosar described the issue this way:

 On Gabriel’s watch, criminal activities occurred and millions of dollars were spent on fraudulent and improper transactions. The Western Area Power Administration has done nothing but slow-walk investigations, cover-up fraud and intimidate anyone who is bold enough to call it out. It’s time for the Department of Energy to clean house and show this Obama holdover the door. This common-sense amendment seeks to hold this rogue bureaucrat accountable to the American people and the victims that have suffered under his tenure.

In his effort to force punitive action on Gabriel, Gosar turned to the Holman Rule.

The measure, created in 1876 by Rep. William Holman (R-In.), allows lawmakers the ability to cut salaries of individual federal employees through floor amendments. This bill was rescinded in 1983 but reinstated by the current Congress.

Gosar is the first Member of Congress to utilize the rule this year, and recently introduced an amendment to a House appropriations bill that, under the Holman Rule, took Gabrial’s salary from six-figures to just $1.

On June 7, 2018, the amendment failed by a vote of 139 to 270. You can see how Members of Congress voted here.

Use of the Holman Rule represents a return to the Article I authority of the Congress – that is, the exclusive ability for the Congress to legislate, which is distinct from the judicial and executive branches. Vested in that legislative authority is the power to control how federal funds are spent.

With that in mind, Members of Congress should see the Holman Rule as critical tool in performing their oversight function over the rest of the government. More broadly, however, it is an important part of reclaiming Article I powers for the legislative branch, many of which have been purposefully as well as unintentionally ceded to the executive and the judiciary.

The Holman rule may be arcane, but its use this week demonstrates how relevant it remains to the ability of Congress to perform its constitutional duty.