Congressional Continuity of Operations (COOP): An Overview of Concepts and Challenges
CRS Report for Congress
Congressional Continuity of Operations (COOP):
An Overview of Concepts and Challenges
Updated September 9, 2005
R. Eric Petersen
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Jeffrey W. Seifert
Analyst in Information Science and Technology Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Congressional Continuity of Operations (COOP): An
Overview of Concepts and Challenges
Interruptions of congressional operations by incidents such as episodic computer
virus infections, the 2001 anthrax contamination, the February 2004 ricin incident
and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 have demonstrated the importance of congressional
continuity of operations (COOP) planning. COOP planning refers to the internal
effort of an organization to assure that the capability exists to continue essential
functions in response to a comprehensive array of potential operational interruptions.
For Congress, COOP planning is related to a second level of preparedness, continuity
of government (COG) planning. Congressional COG planning focuses on ensuring
that Congress is able to carry out its legislative responsibilities under Article I of the
This report discusses the circumstances surrounding COOP planning, including
provisions for alternative meeting sites and methods for conducting House and
Senate meetings and floor sessions when Capitol facilities are not available. This
report does not discuss COG planning beyond its direct relationship to COOP
planning. Information and analysis about COG can be found in CRS Report
RS21089, Continuity of Government: Current Federal Arrangements and the Future,
and CRS Report RL31857, Executive Branch Continuity of Operations (COOP): An
The task of ensuring that Congress can continue to carry out its constitutional
responsibilities in case of disruption, presents unique challenges in addition to the
operational concerns common to most organizations. One challenge involves the
relocation of legislative activities. At the beginning of the 108th Congress, a measure
was adopted to allow the House and Senate to convene at a place outside the District
of Columbia whenever they believe that such a move is in the public interest. In
addition, the rules of each chamber allow for committee activity beyond Washington,
DC. However, concerns regarding the availability of appropriate alternative
facilities, communication and technical capabilities, and providing the necessary
physical security, have arisen. Other challenges for congressional COOP planning
include maintaining Member office information security, and the Legislative
Information System (LIS). Some of these concerns have been addressed through the
deployment of an offsite, alternate computing facility supported by the House,
Senate, and Library of Congress.
Although current congressional COOP planning began prior to September 11,
2001, details surrounding House and Senate COOP planning are not public
information, and some specific material is excluded from this report to preserve
operational security. Contingency planning in the House, however, has evolved over
the past 25 years and there exists a range of backup strategies for maintaining critical
House legislative and administrative information systems. In the Senate, initial
COOP planning was completed in spring 2002 and continues to be refined.
In troduction ......................................................1
Recent Activities and Challenges.....................................3
COOP Planning Prior to September 11, 2001........................3
Contingent Congressional Operations Incidents......................4
September 11, 2001........................................4
Anthrax Incidents and Recovery, 2001-2002.....................4
Ricin Incident, February 2004................................6
Hurricane Katrina, August 2005..............................7
House COOP Planning.........................................7
Senate COOP Planning.........................................8
COOP Planning Training....................................9
Washington, DC, Staff......................................9
Current Issues and Proposals........................................10
Relocating Legislative Activities.................................10
Legislation Related to Congressional Continuity Planning,
Member Office Information Security..............................14
Continuity of Operations.......................................15
Continuity of Government......................................16
Congressional Continuity of Operations
(COOP): An Overview of Concepts and
The disruption of congressional field offices in the Gulf Coast region due to the
effects of Hurricane Katrina, the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and the
reliance of many organizational functions on advanced information technology (IT)
applications have brought renewed attention to the need for organizations to engage
in continuity of operations (COOP) planning. Interruptions of congressional
operations in Washington, DC, and across the country through both natural and man-
made disasters have demonstrated that these concerns and needs extend to Congress,
as well as to other private and public institutions. Some private sector activities can
be relocated or reconfigured to respond to continuity threats by dispersing centralized
facilities, installing automated backup systems, or maintaining excess capacity. The
task of ensuring that the 540 Members of Congress can continue to carry out their
constitutional responsibilities in case of disruption presents unique challenges in
addition to the operational concerns common to most organizations. An attack
against Congress could result in a loss of individuals critical to governance, destroy
important symbols of government, and undermine the national sense of safety and
Continuity of operations planning refers to the internal effort of an organization,
such as an office or department, to assure that the capability exists to continue
essential functions in response to a comprehensive array of potential operational
interruptions. COOP planning is an ongoing process that is driven in part by growth
and change of information systems, personnel, and mission critical needs.
Operational interruptions may include routine building renovation or maintenance;
mechanical failure of heating or other building systems; fire; inclement weather or
other acts of nature; or a range of threatened or actual attacks. Other events that may
interrupt congressional activity include failure of information technology (IT) and
telecommunications installations due to malfunction or cyber attack.1 For Congress,
these interruptions might affect an individual office, building, or the entire Capitol
complex. As the anthrax incidents in the Hart Senate Office Building demonstrated,
recovery from these incursions may not be immediate, and may require the relocation
1 A cyber attack is an incursion on a range of IT facilities, and can range from simply
penetrating a system and examining it for the challenge, thrill, or interest, to entering a
system for revenge, to steal information, cause embarrassment, extort money, cause
deliberate localized harm to computers, or damage to a much larger infrastructure, such as
of Members of Congress and congressional staff, infrastructure, and operations for
prolonged periods of time.
For Congress, COOP planning is related to a second level of preparedness,
continuity of government (COG) planning. COG planning involves the ability of an
entire branch of government to carry out its functions. Congressional continuity of
government planning focuses on ensuring that Congress is able to carry out its
legislative responsibilities under Article I of the Constitution. In Congress, this can
include preserving the line of succession to the presidency, as well as establishing an
alternative meeting site for Congress.2 A third level of preparedness, enduring
constitutional government (ECG), which is not addressed in this report, involves
planning by the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government to
maintain the ability to assure the survival of the country’s constitutional,
representative form of government in the aftermath of a catastrophic emergency.
COOP and COG plans can be activated independently. Under most
circumstances a COOP plan could be activated when there is no COG threat.
However, many believe that to ensure the ability of the legislative branch to provide
essential services to citizens and carry out critical functions, integration of the two
types of planning is necessary to ensure the efforts developed under each plan will
work together seamlessly when necessary.
This report discusses the circumstances surrounding congressional continuity
of operations planning. It also discusses the backup, maintenance, and portability of
various administrative functions used to support Congress, such as legislative
information, e-mail, and the continuity of congressional information technology (IT)
and enterprise systems.3 Plans and details surrounding COOP planning are not
2 Under the Presidential Succession Act (61 Stat. 380; 3 U.S.C. 19), the line of presidential
succession passes to the Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate, if
the President and Vice President are unable to carry out their duties. Continuity of
government planning provides mechanisms to preserve the line of succession, but is not
considered in this report. See CRS Report RL31761, Presidential Succession: An Overview
with Analysis of Legislation Proposed in the 108th Congress, by Thomas H. Neale, and CRS
Report RS21089, Continuity of Government: Current Federal Arrangements and the Future,
by Harold C. Relyea. See CRS Report RL32958, Continuity of Congress: Enacted and
Proposed Federal Statutes for Expedited Election to the House in Extraordinary
Circumstances, by R. Eric Petersen and Sula P. Richardson; CRS Report RS22067, House
Vacancies: Proposals for Filling Them After the Death or Injury of Large Numbers of
Members, 2005-2006, by Sula P. Richardson and Paul S. Rundquist; CRS Report RL31394,
House Vacancies: Selected Proposals for Filling Them After a Catastrophic Loss of
Members, 2001-2004, by Sula P. Richardson and Paul S. Rundquist; and CRS Report
RL32031, House Vacancies: Proposed Constitutional Amendments for Filling Them Due
to National Emergencies, by Sula P. Richardson and Paul S. Rundquist, for detailed analyses
of recent proposals to fill mass vacancies in the House of Representatives.
3 Enterprise is often used in the computer industry to describe any large organizations,
including corporations, small businesses, nonprofit institutions, or government bodies, that
utilize computers. In practice, the term is applied much more often to larger organizations
than smaller ones. An intranet, an internal system of sharing data and software, is an
publicly available, and some specific information is excluded from this report to
preserve operational security. This report does not discuss COG planning beyond its
direct relationship to COOP planning.4
Recent Activities and Challenges
Most, if not all, government institutions have had plans to restore operations or
continue operations in the face of an emergency. During the Cold War, Congress
itself established a secret, remote meeting site several hours removed from
Washington, DC, where it might reconvene and resume its constitutional
responsibilities in the event of a nuclear attack. Also, over the last 20 years,
Congress has worked to incorporate disaster recovery planning into its infrastructure
and software upgrades and Member state and district office operations.
COOP Planning Prior to September 11, 2001
Current congressional COOP planning began pursuant to a joint bipartisan
leadership directive5 issued on September 6, 2000, directing the Capitol Police
Board6 to “develop and manage” a “comprehensive Legislative Branch emergency
preparedness plan.” To facilitate this effort, the board was to work “with the
Attending Physician and the Chief, US Capitol Police, and in coordination with the
Officers of the Senate and House” to develop “an integrated architecture which will
address all hazards which could impede the continuity of essential Legislative Branch
functions.” According to the directive, this integrated architecture is to include “at
a minimum, emergency preparations, response, mitigation and stabilization activities,
and recovery operations.”
Congressional COOP planning has been developed from the bottom up,
beginning with the identification of critical operational infrastructure and resources,
and creating plans to maintain those capabilities in the event of a wide range of
unforseen circumstances. Individual COOP plans are activated by specific events
that interrupt routine congressional operations, and focus on restarting those
operations. The explicit goal of COOP planning is to ensure that congressional
operations can be performed under any circumstances. The activation of a COOP
plan by one or more offices in Congress is law enforcement sensitive, and is based
example of an enterprise computing system.
4 For a more comprehensive analysis of COG, see CRS Report RS21089, Continuity of
Government: Current Federal Arrangements and the Future, by Harold C. Relyea, and CRS
Report RL31857, Executive Branch Continuity of Operations: An Overview, by R. Eric
5 Trent Lott, Senate Majority Leader, J. Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House, Thomas A.
Daschle, Senate Minority Leader, Richard A. Gephardt, House Minority Leader. September
6 The Capitol Police Board is comprised of the Sergeants at Arms of the House and Senate
and the Architect of the Capitol.
on ongoing threat level assessment and the discretion of relevant officials. Because
there is more than one way to interrupt congressional activity, both House and Senate
planners are developing a variety of contingency plans to respond to a range of
potential operational interruptions. By design, COOP plans are meant to be living
documents, revised regularly on the basis of emerging issues and needs assessments.
A component of this revision process includes congressional staff education and
training to execute their responsibilities under their COOP plans.
Contingent Congressional Operations Incidents
Comprehensive COOP planning was already underway when, in 2001, terrorists
attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and later several congressional
office buildings were closed due to anthrax contamination. Those events added a
sense of urgency to the planning process begun a year earlier. Similarly, impetus to
refine planning for a Washington, DC-based incident response planning came from
incidents of ricin contamination in 2004. Efforts to provide contingent support in the
face of incidents in congressional state and district facilities grew from those
initiatives and have been put into operation in response to the devastation of the Gulf
Coast by Hurricane Katrina.
September 11, 2001. On September 11, 2001, following reports of the
Capitol being a potential next target, some units of the Senate officers’ staffs
activated their COOP plans, and COG plans were activated in the House and Senate.
The leadership of both chambers was moved to an undisclosed, secure location for
briefings.7 Despite the evacuation of all congressional buildings, including the
Capitol, congressional offices, and the Library of Congress, the events of September
11 did not cause any lasting interruption of essential congressional operations. In
some cases, Members and staff were able to return to their offices and resume
activity later in the day, and both chambers were back in session on September 12.8
Anthrax Incidents and Recovery, 2001-2002. In October 2001, concerns
regarding anthrax contamination of congressional buildings resulted in the closure
of offices, and the postponement of hearings in both the Senate and the House of
Representatives, as well as a temporary recess of the House of Representatives. On
Monday, October 15, an anthrax-contaminated letter was opened in Senator Thomas
Daschle’s office, exposing more than two dozen people to the bacteria. The
following day, the southeast corner of the Hart Senate Office building, including the
offices of 12 Senators, was closed to limit further exposure and spread of the
powdery substance. On Wednesday, October 17, Speaker Dennis Hastert announced
a five-day recess while House buildings were tested for anthrax contamination. Also
that day, Senate Majority Leader Daschle announced the closure of all Senate office
7 John Lancaster and Helen Dewar, “Outraged Lawmakers Vow to Keep Hill Going; Briefly
Evacuated, Congress Returns To Show Resolve,” The Washington Post, Sept. 12, 2001, p.
A21; and Lauren W. Whittington and Mark Preston, “Sorrow and Defiance: Security
Review Planned,” Roll Call, Sept. 13, 2001, p. 1.
8 “Issues Over Funds Control Stalls $40 Billion Bill,” CNN.com, Sept. 14, 2001,
[http://www.cnn.com/2001/US/09/13/congress.terrorism/], visited March 28, 2005.
buildings to facilitate testing, but the Senate remained in session as originally
On Monday, October 22, the Capitol building was reopened, and both the House
and the Senate returned to session on Tuesday, October 23. On October 24, the
Russell Senate Office Building was reopened, followed by the reopening of the
Cannon and Rayburn House Office Buildings on October 25. The Dirksen Senate
Office Building was reopened on Friday, October 26. On Monday, November 5, the
Longworth House Office Building was reopened, with the exception of three Member
offices where trace amounts of anthrax were detected. These offices remained closed
while environmental remediation to remove the anthrax spores took place.9 Portions
of the Ford House Office Building were reopened on Tuesday, November 6.10 Offices
on the south side of the first floor of the Ford House Office Building, which had
remained closed for environmental remediation, were reopened on January 22, 2002.
The basement mail room of the Ford House Office Building has been remediated but
not reoccupied.11 The Hart Senate Office Building, which houses 50 Member offices,
remained closed from October 17, 2001 to January 22, 2002.12
Many Members of Congress and staff had to relocate to alternate facilities while
House office buildings were closed. The Government Accountability Office (GAO;
formerly named the General Accounting Office) provided work facilities, equipment,
and supplies for all 440 House Members and two staffers per Member of Congress,
as well as for more than 20 House committees.13 Preliminary COOP plans were
activated when House officers prepared a temporary alternate facility for floor
9 Michael Gerber, “Anthrax Found in Kennedy, Dodd Offices,” The Hill, Nov. 21, 2001;
“U.S. House Offices to Reopen After Anthrax Scare,” Reuters, Nov. 5, 2001.
10 Michael Gerber, “Anthrax Found in Kennedy, Dodd Offices,” The Hill, Nov. 21, 2001;
Guy Taylor, “District Sees Threat of Anthrax Waning,” Washington Times, Nov. 7, 2001,
11 See the House Operating Status page for the most recent information regarding the status
of House buildings [http://www.house.gov/house/status.shtml].
12 Helen Dewar, “Senate Reclaims Russell Bldg.; Section of Hart Tests Positive,” The
Washington Post, Oct. 25, 2001, p. A29.; “Hart Fumigation Appears Successful,” The
Washington Post, Jan. 2, 2002, p. A2; Spencer S. Hsu, “Hart Reopening Delayed After
Discovery in Ceiling,” The Washington Post, January 18, 2001, A1; Spencer S. Hsu, “‘It’s
Good to Be Back’: Senators Return to Hart; Offices Reopen After 96-Day Anthrax
Quarantine,” The Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2002, p. A1.
The Russell and Dirksen Senate Office Buildings were briefly closed again on
Saturday, Nov. 17, following the discovery of an anthrax-laced letter addressed to Senator
Patrick Leahy. Although the Leahy letter was recovered from one of the 280 barrels of
congressional mail being held and examined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),
officials were unsure where in the delivery process the letter had been intercepted. The two
Senate office buildings were reopened Monday, Nov. 19. See Michael Gerber, “Anthrax
Found in Kennedy, Dodd Offices,” The Hill, Nov. 21, 2001, p. 1.
13 Tanya N. Ballard, “In Anthrax Aftermath, GAO Turns to Telecommuting,” Government
Executive Magazine, Nov. 1, 2001, [http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/1101/110011t1.htm],
visited March 28, 2005.
operations reportedly located at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Southwest Washington, DC.
However, the plan was not implemented due to the reopening of the Capitol.14
Some Senators with Capitol offices worked out of them. Other Senators moved
their office operations to nearby townhouses, apartments, state offices, or even cars
parked in front of the Capitol.15 Some Senators with offices in the Russell and
Dirksen buildings offered to share space with colleagues locked out of the Hart
building.16 In addition, Senate staffers were relocated to first aid stations, mail
rooms, and the offices of the Senate Chaplain, as well as space in the Postal Square
facility.17 Some staff worked from home, or moved to nearby state offices as well.
Although alternate office accommodations were in place, office computer and
hard copy files in the closed offices were, in many cases, at least temporarily
inaccessible. Members of Congress and their staff adapted quickly to a changing
environment and improvised to ensure that the business of Congress continued.
However, the extended nature of the problems with the Hart Senate Office Building,
and the disruptions of mail delivery,18 highlighted the necessity of ongoing
contingency planning in the event of a larger scale incident involving congressional
Ricin Incident, February 2004. On February 2, 2004, powder was
discovered in the mail room of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Tests suggested19
the powder contained ricin, a potentially lethal toxin derived from castor beans. No
individuals were hurt in the incident. Congressional staff who were potentially
exposed to the powder were moved to another area of the building for medical testing
and decontamination and the ventilation system was shut down. The Senate still
convened the following day, although the Dirksen, Hart, and Russell Senate office
buildings were closed for further assessment. Subsequent testing identified no
further contamination and the Senate office buildings reopened between February 5
and February 7. Until the buildings were cleared to reopen, Senators and staff were
14 Susan Crabtree, “Ft. McNair Ready for House Action,” Roll Call, Nov. 1, 2001, p.1.
15 William Matthews, “E-Mail Keeps Lawmakers in Touch,” Federal Computer Week, Oct.
29, 2001, p. 12; Betsy Rothstein, “Anthrax Crisis Makes Members Displaced Persons,” The
Hill, Oct. 31, 2001.
16 Helen Dewar, “Senate Reclaims Russell Bldg.; Section of Hart Tests Positive,” The
Washington Post, Oct. 25, 2001, p. A29.
17 Peter Nicholas, “Anthrax Closures Squeeze the Senate,” The Philadelphia Inquirer,
November 20, 2001, p. A01; Lauren W. Whittington and Mark Preston, “EPA Hedges on
Hart,” Roll Call, Nov. 29, 2001, p. 1.
18 Mail delivery throughout Capitol Hill immediately ceased following the discovery of the
anthrax-laced letter in Senator Daschle’s office. The distribution of surface mail to
Congress, which is now irradiated before delivery, resumed in late November. The
irradiation process, however can delay delivery by approximately one to two weeks. Jason
Miller, “With Mail Safety Still Iffy, Hill Upgrades E-mail,” Government Computer News,
Jan. 7, 2002, p. 14.
19 For a more detailed explanation about ricin, see CRS Report RS21383 Ricin: Technical
Background and Potential Role in Terrorism, by Dana Shea and Frank Gottron.
displaced from offices and chamber operations continued in a manner similar to that
experienced during the anthrax incident.20
Hurricane Katrina, August 2005. The damage Hurricane Katrina wreaked
along the Gulf Coast also rendered several Member field offices unusable. While
congressional staff in the affected areas provided assistance to storm-displaced
constituents, both the House and Senate provided a range of support services from
pre-positioned emergency resources. For the first time, the House reportedly
activated a recovery operations center that provided support to 10-12 Members on
a 24-hour a day basis. Established after the 2001 attacks, the recovery center
reportedly provided Members with communications equipment, computers and
mobile office facilities. Similar services and resources were reportedly provided to21
Senators by the Senate Sergeant at Arms.
House COOP Planning22
In the House of Representatives, contingency planning is far from a new
concept. Disaster recovery planning by House Information Resources (HIR) has
evolved with advances in technology, equipment, and information resources over the
last 20 years. At various times, disaster recovery planning has been incorporated into
infrastructure and software upgrades deployed in response to emerging events, such
as Year 2000 (Y2K) planning, a series of computer virus incursions, and the
September 11 attacks.
At present, there is a range of backup strategies for maintaining critical House
legislative and administrative information systems maintained by HIR. These
include workflow and enterprise systems, personnel and payroll operations, House
web site content, and the House legislative information management system
(LIMS).23 Responsibility for securing and backing up committee and Member hard
20 Carol Morello and Spencer S. Hsu, “Senate Offices to Begin Reopening; Police Say No
Link Found in Dirksen Ricin, Earlier Letter to White House,” The Washington Post, Feb.
5, 2004, p. A1; Carol Morello and Spencer S. Hsu, “Ricin Partially Shuts Senate; 3
Buildings Sealed; Toxin Was Mailed to White House in Nov.,”The Washington Post, Feb.
4, 2004, p. A1 Martin Weil, “Suspicious Powder Found in Frist Office,” The Washington
Post, Feb. 3, 2004, p. A1; and Carl Hulse, “Tests Indicate Poison in Senate Mail Room of
Majority Leader,” The New York Times, Feb. 3, 2004, p. A12.
21 John McArdle, “Gulf Coast Members Get Big Assist From ‘H-Rock.’” Roll Call, Sept.
8, 2005, retrieved through nexis.com; and Susan Ferrechio, “Lawmakers Struggle to Move
or Reopen Gulf Coast Offices, Offer Assistance,” CQ Today, Sept. 2, 2005, retrieved
22 This section is based on discussion with staff in House Information Resources (HIR), and
other sources, as noted.
23 The House legislative information management system contains the metadata(or data
about data that describe how, when, and by whom a particular set of data was collected, and
how the data are formatted) generated by the legislative operations of the House. It is the
House source for portions of the Legislative Information System (LIS)
[http://www.congress.gov] (available only to the congressional community) and Thomas,
copy office information and computer data, including e-mail and office websites,
resides in each office. Among information technology professionals, the need for
contingency planning for the preservation of enterprise information is an industry
standard. In Member and committee offices, the sensitive nature of the information
suggests that data backup and recovery strategies will need to strike a balance
between control of the information and its relationship to a comprehensive House-
wide data recovery plan.
In other matters of COOP planning, the House of Representatives continues to
consider options for relocating floor activities in the event that Capitol facilities are
unavailable. Member communications have been upgraded, with the Committee on
House Administration issuing a BlackBerry, a wireless personal digital assistant, to
each Representative. The purpose of the device is to communicate critical
information to Members when other modes of communication may be inoperative.24
In addition to IT planning in light of the perception of heightened threat, the
House has made several internal administrative changes to address contingency
planning. In January 2002, an Office of Emergency, planning, Preparedness and
Operations (OEPPO) was created in the House, pursuant to P.L. 107-117. The office
is responsible for House mitigation and preparedness operations, crisis management
and response, and resource services and recovery operations. The director of OEPPO
is jointly appointed by the Speaker and Minority Leader. In the summer of 2004, a
Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery unit was established in the Office of the
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the House.
Other COOP issues, including planning for the relocation of House committee
and Member office activities, as well as the development of enhanced capabilities
offered by secure offsite backup and retrieval of critical data, have been deployed or
are underdevelopment by House officers.
Senate COOP Planning25
In response to the joint bipartisan leadership directive, and guidance from the
Senate Sergeant at Arms, the Senate’s initial COOP plan was completed in the spring
the public database of congressional information housed in the Library of Congress and
available at [http://thomas.loc.gov].
24 Bob Ney, chairman, Committee on House Administration, and Steny Hoyer, ranking
member, All Member Offices to Receive Blackberries (sic), Dear Colleague Letter, Sept. 21,
Committee on House Administration and Steny Hoyer, ranking member, BlackBerry Pager
Update, Dear Colleague Letter, Oct. 16, 2001, available at [http://www.house.gov/cha/
October_16.htm]. Both sites visited Mar. 28, 2005. Initially, the House absorbed the coststh
of providing devices and services to Members and staff. At the beginning of the 109
Congress, the House transferred responsibility for acquisition and service of BlackBerry
devices to individual Members through their Member Representational Accounts.
25 This section is based on discussions with staff in the Office of the Secretary of the Senate
and the Sergeant at Arms of the Senate, and other sources, as noted.
of 2001, with implementation of the plan constituted in three phases. The first phase
involved the relocation of the Senate chamber and support staff needed to carry out
floor business. The second phase focused on maintaining the operations of Senate
officers, including the operational and technical infrastructure of the Secretary of the
Senate and Sergeant at Arms. The final phase involved ensuring the continued
operation of Member and committee offices, as well as support entities, such as the
Legislative Counsel, and the Senate contingent of the Capitol Police. Senate COOP
plan incorporate and integrate individual contingency plans for each Senator,
committee, and administrative office. Under a system of distributed decision
making, each Senator or committee chair will have discretion to activate his or her
office COOP plan as events warrant. Each office has an office emergency
coordinator (OEC) responsible for developing and maintaining the plan. In the event
of an incident affecting their office, the OEC is responsible for implementing the
Several units of the Secretary’s office operated under their COOP plans during
the Senate anthrax incident. Some offices would worked under contingency plans for
a few days during the incident while others’ plans were in effect for the duration of
the Hart Building closure. Two such offices were the Senate disbursing office, which
handles payroll operations, and the stationery office, which distributes office
supplies. The offices operated from other locations while the building was
unavailable. Despite the relocation, all Senate staff were paid without interruption,
and office supplies were available throughout the Senate during the three months the
building was closed.
COOP Planning Training. As COOP planning evolves from its initial
phases into a stable, routine element of administrative operations in all Senate
offices, the Sergeant at Arms has taken several steps to maintain COOP planning
across the Senate. Initiatives include the establishment of an Office of Security and
Emergency Preparedness within the Sergeant at Arms operation, the publication of26
a comprehensive emergency preparedness manual, The Roadmap to Readiness, and
the initiation of emergency planning activities for Member state offices.
Washington, DC, Staff. Plans for the relocation of the Senate chamber were
completed in 2002, and the Senate Sergeant at Arms and Secretary of the Senate
developed a range of plans for maintaining congressional information and operations.
Training for leadership, committee, and Member offices to develop their own COOP
plans has also been completed. Under the direction of the Committee on Rules and
Administration, the Sergeant at Arms and Secretary of the Senate trained leadership,
committee, and Member offices to write and complete COOP plans during the spring
and summer of 2002. COOP plans are dynamic, and must be reflect current
operational conditions. To ensure that individual office COOP plans remain current,
26 The Roadmap to Readiness is a comprehensive guide designed to provide Senate staff
with the tools necessary to create security, emergency action, and Continuity of Operations
plans for your Member’s offices both in Washington, DC. and in home states. It also
provides suggestion for the conduct of education and training of office staff to enable them
to respond appropriately in an emergency, and provides resources for obtaining more
information. The report is available through the Senate’s intranet, Webster.
Senate COOP planning includes annual awareness training for committee and officer
staffs. Additionally, COOP plan development training is integrated into training for
newly elected Senators and their staffs at the beginning of a new Congress.
State Offices. Members’ offices may participate in COOP planning through
the continuity of operations planning system, an online application provided by the
Sergeant at Arms. The Web-based software facilitates COOP planning through the
use of interview questions about how a user might want their office to function in a
In addition to the formal COOP planning processes, the Senate has issued
BlackBerry personal digital assistants to every Senator.27 Information technology
managers in the Sergeant at Arms office have developed extensive systems for
safeguarding data and electronic records, and maintain remote storage of payroll,
personnel, and purchasing information through an outside vendor. Responsibility for
securing and backing up committee and Member hard copy office information and28
computer data, including e-mail and office websites, resides in individual offices;
the Sergeant at Arms provides data backup and recovery services upon request.
Current Issues and Proposals
As Congress moves forward with its COOP planning, a number of procedural,
logistical, and technical issues arise. Some of these include the use of remote
voting,29 information security, the compatibility between individual Member,
committee, and other congressional COOP plans, and replicating traditional activities
in alternative environments. Although some of these issues can be addressed by
thorough planning and testing by professional staff, others, such as the possibility of
remote voting, could require legislative or even constitutional responses.
Relocating Legislative Activities
Since the establishment of the District of Columbia as the national capital,
Congress has been unable to use the Capitol only once. During the War of 1812,
British troops burned the Capitol, forcing Congress to meet elsewhere in
Washington, DC, for five years. In response to the evacuations and closures of the
Capitol and House and Senate office buildings in 2001, 2002, and 2004, both
chambers made alternative arrangements to conduct congressional business. Some
27 Ed Henry and Paul Kane, “BlackBerry, Anyone?,” Roll Call Daily, Nov. 27, 2001.
28 A variety of backup methods exist. One common and relatively inexpensive method for
backing up data is the use of recordable compact discs (CD-R) or to “memory sticks,” small,
rewritable storage media.
29 Remote voting can include a range of technology systems that might facilitate voting by
Members who are not physically present on the House or Senate floor. The rules of both
chambers assume that Members will be present, and do not allow remote voting.
Conversely, Senate rules authorize committees to adopt rules for proxy voting, a paper based
form of remote voting.
staff were able to communicate by wireless devices and e-mail systems, while others
met in alternative office space or their homes. Although some Members of Congress
met together informally, neither chamber met in session outside the Capitol.
During the Cold War, Congress established a remote meeting site under The
Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.30 The facility was
reportedly established to assist Congress to carry out its activities away from
Washington, DC, in the event of nuclear attack. The site was equipped with facilities
for House of Representatives and Senate floor activities, and a large hall to
accommodate joint meetings.31 In the absence of a national attack, this facility was
never used, and has since been opened to the public for tours. At this time there are
no current public proposals for the establishment of a similar facility.
The current details of physically relocating Congress are not publicly available.
Congress has taken steps to authorize the relocation of floor activities, and some
proposals have been put forth regarding potential facilities for Congress to use in an
emergency. Under the rules of each chamber, House and Senate committee activity
beyond Washington, DC, is already permissible.
Floor Activity. Article I, Section 5, clause 4 of the Constitution requires the
consent of both the House and the Senate to adjourn for more than three days or to
meet at “any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.” As used
in this section of the Constitution, “place” has long been held to be the “seat of
government,” which has been statutorily defined as Washington, DC, since 1947.32
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and anthrax interruptions, Congress
modified its adjournment resolutions to allow either chamber to reconvene at a place
and time designated by the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the
Senate, whenever they determine the public interest shall warrant it.
On January 9, 2003, soon after the 108th Congress convened the House
adopted H.Con.Res 1, Regarding Consent to Assemble Outside the Seat of
Government. The Senate agreed to the measure on February 13, 2003. The
concurrent resolution authorizes the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader
of the Senate, or their respective designees, acting jointly and in consultation with the
Minority Leaders of the House and Senate, to convene at a place outside the District
of Columbia whenever they believe that such a move is in the public interest.
Some have suggested that, in the event of an interruption that renders Capitol
Hill facilities unusable, Congress move to the legislative buildings of nearby state
30 See [http://www.greenbrier.com/about_history.asp], visited March 28, 2005..
31 Ted Gup, “The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway,” The Washington Post Magazine, May
32 4 U.S.C. 71. In the House, “place” has also been interpreted to mean the seat of
government. See U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual and Rules of thethth
House of Representatives of the United States, 108 Congress, H.Doc. 107-284 107nd
Congress, 2 session, compiled by Charles W. Johnson, Parliamentarian. (Washington:
GPO, 2001), pp. 35-39. Under 4 U.S.C. 71, the seat of government appears to be anywhere
within the boundaries of Washington, DC.
governments or other government facilities and resume operations from those
locations.33 Administrative questions COOP planners and policymakers may
consider when reviewing the relocation of floor activities include, for example, what
facilities are available in other locations for Members, staff and chamber officers,
such as the parliamentarians, security officers, and clerks. What level of physical
security exists in these facilities? If Congress chose to move to state legislative
facilities, what arrangements would be necessary if the state legislature needs to hold
its own legislative sessions? Some may ask whether moving Congress as a whole to
another location improves security, or merely relocates a terrorist target. In practical
terms, what logistical and technical issues must be addressed so that relocated floor
activity can be supported at an alternative site, and within an accelerated time-frame?
How would Members of Congress and staff be informed to meet at the alternative
site? How would Members of Congress and staff be transported to the alternative
site? What if Members of Congress were unable to get to the alternative site due to
travel restrictions or interruptions? Finally, what advance arrangements would need
to be made between Congress and the state legislatures that may host them?
Committees. Congressional committees hold meetings and hearings on a
range of public policy issues and legislative initiatives. House Rule XI, 2 (m), states
in part that a committee is authorized “... to sit and act at such times and places
within the United States, whether the House is in session, has recessed, or has
adjourned, and to hold such hearings as it considers necessary ....” Similarly, Senate
Rule XXVI, 1, states that a committee “... is authorized to hold such hearings, to sit
and act at such times and places during the sessions, recesses, and adjourned periods34
of the Senate ...” as it sees fit. Funding for committee travel and guidelines on other
administrative matters involved in hearings away from the Capitol are already
established by regulations issued by the House Administration Committee and the
Senate Rules and Administration Committee.35
33 Amy Keller, “E-Congress: Possible? Yes. Likely? No.” Roll Call, Nov. 5, 2001, p. A1.
34 Under meetings of committees, Riddick’s Senate Procedure also states that each Senate
standing committee or their subcommittees “... is authorized to hold hearings, to sit and act
at such times and places during the sessions, recesses, and adjourned periods of the
Senate...” Floyd M. Riddick and Alan S. Frumin, Riddick’s Senate Procedure: Precedents
and Practices, S. Doc. 101-28 (Washington: GPO, 1992), p. 404. Discussion with the
House parliamentarian indicates that the chair in the House has never been called upon to
rule on the matter of House committees holding meetings beyond Washington, DC.
35 In the House, regulations printed in the House Administration Committee’s Congressional
Handbook cover matters specific to field hearings. The handbook is available from the
committee and can be viewed online at [http://www.house.gov/cha/cmtehdbkcover.html].
In the Senate, committee travel in general is governed by regulations compiled in the U.S.
Senate Handbook (Chapter 11, Appendix D of the 1996 edition). Print and online versions
of the handbook are available - to Senate offices only - from the Senate Committee on Rules
Legislation Related to Congressional Continuity
Planning, 107th - 109th Congresses
On August 2, 2005, the President signed the Legislative Branch
Appropriations Act, 2006 (P.L. 109-55), which includes a provision (Title III) for
expedited special House elections in extraordinary circumstances. As adopted by the
House (305-122) on July 28, 2005, and the Senate (96-4) on July 29, 2005, the
conference report to H.R. 2985 (H.Rept. 109-189) included a “continuity in
representation” provision. Title III of P.L. 109-55, making appropriations for the36
legislative branch for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2006, requires that states
in which a vacancy exists in its representation in the House of Representatives hold37
a special election within 49 days following an announcement by the Speaker of the
House that because of extraordinary circumstances, vacancies in representation from
the states have exceeded 100 seats; make a determination of the candidates who will
run in the special election; ensure to the greatest extent practicable that absentee
ballots for the election are transmitted to absent uniformed services voters and
overseas voters; and accept and process any otherwise valid ballot or other election38
material from an absent uniformed services voter or an overseas voter.
Additionally, the events of September 11, 2001, the subsequent anthrax
incidents, and the February 2004 ricin incident have highlighted some of the potential
vulnerabilities of the centralized assembly of the nation’s lawmakers, prompting
some observers to suggest creating a virtual or electronic Congress (e-Congress).39
3481) was introduced to require the National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST) to investigate the feasibility and costs of implementing a computer system for
remote voting and communication for Congress to ensure business continuity for
congressional operations. The Committee on House Administration held hearings
on e-Congress initiatives and other issues surrounding the continuity of congressional
operations on May 1, 2002. A second measure (H.R. 5007) was introduced, directing
36 The measure would also apply to election officials in the District of Columbia, the
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
37 As introduced, H.R. 841 called for special elections within 45 days. This was changed
to 49 days by amendment on the floor.
38 See CRS Report RL32958, Continuity of Congress: Enacted and Proposed Federal
Statutes for Expedited Election to the House in Extraordinary Circumstances, by R. Eric
Petersen and Sula P. Richardson.
39 It is unclear exactly how an e-Congress would be constituted and operated. Some
observers have offered some broad suggestions involving the establishment of a website that
Members could access from anywhere in the country (and perhaps the world). Proponents
envision such a website would enable Members to carry out activities normally done on the
chambers’ floors or in committees. The possibility of convening an e-Congress raises a
number of procedural, technical, and resource questions, some of which have not yet been
addressed. A more complete discussion of issues raised by the development of an electronic
Congress can be found in CRS Report RS21140, Emergency Electronic Communications
in Congress: Issues and Legislative Proposals, 107th and 108th Congresses, by Jeffrey W.
Seifert and R. Eric Petersen.
the Comptroller General to enter into arrangements with the National Academy of
Science and the Librarian of Congress to examine the feasibility and costs, and the
constitutional and procedural issues associated with the creation of an emergency
electronic communication system for Congress, respectively. In a press release
announcing his intention to introduce H.R. 3481, Representative James Langevin,
who sponsored both measures, cited the importance of maintaining “the effective
operation of the nation’s highest lawmaking body,” as well as the need to “learn from
our mistakes and take the necessary steps to prepare for future threats to ensure that
government can continue to conduct its business effectively.”40
introduced the latter measure as H.R. 2948, which was referred to the Committee on
House Administration. Representative Drier introduced House Continuing
Resolution 190, which proposed the establishment of a joint committee to “to review
House and Senate rules, joint rules, and other matters assuring continuing
representation and congressional operations for the American people.” On June 5,
2003, H.Con.Res. 190 was passed by the House in a voice vote and sent to the
Senate, where it was referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration.
No legislation related to an e-Congress or other form of congressionalth
emergency communications is pending in the 109 Congress.
Member Office Information Security
Continuity planners suggest that a critical element of COOP planning is to
plan ahead and to develop a clear understanding of what materials and information
are most crucial to continuing operations if regular facilities are not available.41 A
component in this planning is the preservation of critical information maintained in
Congressional offices that wish to retain control over their own data may
prefer to develop their own plans for backup and subsequent recovery of critical
information recorded on paper and electronic media. Information security
professionals recommend making a regular, global backup of system files and data,
and more frequent (daily) backups of new and recently changed files. This might
include systematic scanning and retention of electronic images of irreplaceable paper
documents.42 Backup copies then need to be stored in a secure location other than
40 For the full text of the press release, see [http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/
ri02_langevin/pr120601continuity.html], visited Mar. 28, 2005.
41 See James Schultz, “New Urgency for Disaster Recovery Planning,” Washington
Technology, Oct. 8, 2001, pp. 18-20.
42 Despite many predictions regarding the advent of the so-called paperless office, the
blizzard of paper that accompanied the dust and debris with the collapse of the World Trade
Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001 suggests many organizations are still heavily dependent on
their physical documents. One company that did have a comprehensive digital imaging
system in place before Sept. 11 was Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield. Developed over the
past 10 years, starting with claims forms, the insurance carrier’s optical storage system
the office where the original files are located. For example, Member Capitol Hill
offices could store backup copies in state or district offices, and vice versa.
Information security professionals also recommend additional actions such as
maintaining a series of regularly updated copies, so that not all office data are lost in
the event that a particular backup copy is corrupted, or otherwise compromised by
a virus, defective media, or other cause.43
As COOP projects move forward, planners may also continue to consider
responses to the possibility of interruptions affecting critical operating systems and
data such as communications, the Legislative Information System (LIS), and
individual Member computer resources. An electronic interruption or cyber attack
could manifest itself through the spread of computer viruses or worms. It could also
take the form of hackers gaining access to congressional computer systems or denial-
of-service (DoS) attacks on congressional Web servers.44 Similarly, another
possibility is an attack, physical or electronic, or other interruption to a major
telecommunications switching station in the Washington, DC, area, which could
significantly affect the Congress’s ability to communicate both internally and
externally. Some of these vulnerabilities are being addressed through the
implementation of wireless devices, such as the BlackBerry, as well as the
establishment of a congressional alternate computing facility, jointly managed by the45
House Senate, and Library of Congress.
Continuity of Operations
CRS Report RL32752. Continuity of Operations (COOP) in the Executive Branch:
Issues in the 109th Congress, by R. Eric Petersen.
captures almost all of its paper documents. As a result, the company lost only about two
days’ worth of paper mail. See Stan Gibson, “Rethinking Storage,” eWeek, Oct. 15, 2001,
43 For additional information on cybersecurity preparedness, see
[http://www.ready.gov/business/st3-improvecyber.html], visited Mar. 28, 2005.
44 A denial-of-service attack is an attempt to crash a network or make a website inaccessible
by flooding it with useless traffic.
45 For an overview of potential electronic incursions, see Dorothy E. Denning, “Activism,
Hacktivism, and Cyberterrorism: The Internet as a Tool for Influencing Foreign Policy,”
at [http://www.nautilus.org/gps/info-policy/workshop/papers/denning.html], visited Mar.
CRS Report RL31857. Executive Branch Continuity of Operations (COOP): An
Overview, by R. Eric Petersen.
CRS Report RL31978. Emergency Preparedness and Continuity of Operations
(COOP) Planning in the Federal Judiciary, by R. Eric Petersen.
Continuity of Government
CRS Report RS21089. Continuity of Government: Current Federal Arrangements
and the Future, by Harold C. Relyea.
CRS Report RL32958, Continuity of Congress: Enacted and Proposed Federal
Statutes for Expedited Election to the House in Extraordinary Circumstances,
by R. Eric Petersen and Sula P. Richardson.
CRS Report RS22067. House Vacancies: Proposals for Filling Them After
the Death or Injury of Large Numbers of Members, 2005-2006, by Sula P.
Richardson and Paul S. Rundquist.
CRS Report RL32031. House Vacancies: Proposed Constitutional Amendments for
Filling Them Due to National Emergencies, by Sula P. Richardson and Paul
CRS Report RL31394. House Vacancies: Selected Proposals for Filling Them After
a Catastrophic Loss of Members, 2001-2004, by Sula P. Richardson and Paul
CRS Report RL31761. Presidential and Vice Presidential Succession: Overview
and Current Legislation, by Thomas H. Neale.
CRS Report RL31739. Federal Agency Emergency Preparedness and Dismissal of
Employees, by L. Elaine Halchin.
CRS Report RS21017. Terrorist Attacks and National Emergencies Act
Declarations, by Harold C. Relyea.
CRS Report 98-505. National Emergency Powers, by Harold C. Relyea.
CRS Report RL31542. Homeland Security — Reducing the Vulnerability of Public
and Private Information Infrastructures to Terrorism: An Overview, by
Jeffrey W. Seifert.
CRS Report RL31787. Information Warfare and Cyberwar: Capabilities and
Related Policy Issues, by Clay Wilson.
CRS Report RS21140. Emergency Electronic Communications in Congress: Issues
and Legislative Proposals, 107th and 108th Congresses, by Jeffrey W.
Seifert and R. Eric Petersen.
CRS Report RS20928. Field Hearings: Fact Sheet on Purposes, Rules, Regulations,
and Guidelines, by Richard C. Sachs.
CRS Report RL31103. House of Representatives Information Technology
Management Issues: An Overview of the Effects on Institutional Operations,
the Legislative Process, and Future Planning, by Jeffrey W. Seifert and R.
CRS Report RL30699. Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Weapons and Missiles:
Status and Trends, by Sharon A. Squassoni.
CRS Report RS21383. Ricin: Technical Background and Potential Role in
Terrorism, by Dana Shea and Frank Gottron.
CRS Report RL31669. Terrorism: Background on Chemical, Biological, and Toxin
Weapons and Options for Lessening Their Impact, by Dana A. Shea.