CARDS: 24/7 Congressional Analysis for the DoD

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CARDS: 24/7 Congressional Analysis for the DoD

Nick West

By Nick West, Manager of the Congressional Analysis Team at Thompson Gray, Inc.

As far as most people in the Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition sphere are concerned, a Congressional Analyst is much like a dentist: you don’t want to have one around all the time, but when you really need one, you REALLY need one.

In the world of military budgets, Congress is often thought of as a necessary evil. Per Article I of the Constitution, it is Congress that provides funding for all federal government programs, including the DOD. Sometimes that funding is more than the Executive Branch has asked for, and sometimes it is less. Both changes present very real challenges to professionals in both government and industry, which is why keeping a watchful eye on Capitol Hill is so vital. Getting caught off-guard is a recipe for missing deadlines on appeals, reports, and briefings.

Recognizing that headquarters budgets are tight everywhere, having an on-site, 24/7 Congressional Analyst is not realistic for many offices both in DOD and in industry, which is where Thompson Gray’s Congressional Analysis Team comes into play.

I have worked in the field of congressional defense policy since 2001, serving four years on the Senate Armed Services Committee staff and then two-and-a-half years in Missile Defense Agency Legislative Affairs. In 2008 I moved to supporting various Army offices with off-site congressional support, and I quickly found that it was difficult to keep multiple customers stocked with fast, comprehensive, and accurate information in the format they wanted.

Calling on those past professional experiences, the Congressional Analysis and Resource Database System (CARDS) was born. CARDS was first deployed in late 2008 and has been modified and re-tooled over the years to provide all the benefits of a full-time, on-site Congressional Analyst at a fraction of the cost.

With CARDS as the platform for information sharing, our Congressional Analysis Team provides full coverage of the House and Senate while filtering information down to a customer’s unique interest. Other online congressional resources provide a gauntlet of information, but a lack of customization makes it difficult for regular users to find what they need. When a customer contracts for CARDS access, they are actually paying for access to our Congressional Analysis Team, not just a subscription to a website. CARDS is merely the conduit for sharing our work, and users are free to directly email any member of our team for clarification, assistance, or any other reason. The customer always comes first!

What does Thompson Gray provide through CARDS? Our proprietary relational database platform includes millions of pieces of individual data elements that are then sewn together to provide coverage that is intuitive, yet comprehensive.

Our analysts watch every single congressional defense committee hearing and provide quick-turn summaries of each session. These summary articles are prepared with our customers in mind – a 5-minute section on Army Future Vertical Lift will get extremely thorough coverage in the article, while a 20-minute section on deployment rates in Afghanistan may get a quick summary. Articles are linked to the underlying hearing, giving the reader quick access to prepared witness statements, transcripts, and bios of hearing attendees. In 2019 alone, 208 original articles were posted to CARDS on hearings, House and Senate action on key legislation, and changes to committee memberships.

CARDS provides the most thorough tracking of the annual National Defense Authorization Act and Defense Appropriations Act anywhere on the Internet. In fiscal year 2021, we covered 2,843 individual lines of program funding from the President’s budget request in February to the final NDAA and Consolidated Appropriations Act passed in December. That information is accessible to customers through dynamic Program Funding Charts, including organization-level charts created for our customer groups to cover only their needs. Individuals within the organization can then designate “favorite” funding lines to create their own, personal Program Funding Chart to track their program through the authorization and appropriations processes.

Furthermore, we break down every single piece of language in the House, Senate, and conference bills and reports, so information can be tied to funding lines and also to related language. In FY21 alone, we added 9,265 bits of congressional language to our database. Given that our archive goes back to FY07, you have an idea of how much data is packed into the CARDS database.

CARDS also provides basic data-like biographical information on every Member of Congress who has served since 2000, up-to-date committee and subcommittee rosters, and bios on key federal leaders who testify before Congress. Those bios are populated with customized information on their appearances at committee hearings relevant to the user – an Army Budget Analyst does not care how many Judiciary Committee hearings a Senator has been to, so we won’t show you!

There is so much more to the congressional affairs support provided by Thompson Gray and by CARDS, far more than 750 words will allow me. For more information, please email me at nwest@thompsongrayinc.com and I will be happy to show you how our Congressional Analysis Team can help you stay ahead of the curve and ahead of the Congress!