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Government and Organizational Bandwidth

Overly limiting the size of an organization harms its ability to do meaningful work.

The idea of bandwidth in computing is how much data can move between two points in a given period of time. Usually we measure that in bits per second, but either of the measures can be any volume, depending on the application. For example, human knowledge might be measured in some large measure of bits per decade or century.

As our country has grown, part of our government has as well. The executive branch has ballooned in size, and not just official workers, but contractors. Meanwhile, the other two branches have not grown nearly as much. While there are somewhat more staff in Congress than in past decades, and while staffing can do a lot in helping legislative bandwidth, it can’t do as much as more members of congress and the senate can.

The same goes for the judiciary. While the Supreme Court can mostly limit its caseload artificially, doing so does not make the law better and only makes the caseload manageable for so few members of a court. The subordinate courts, meanwhile, have their own bandwidth issues.

For any organization, there is only so much that bandwidth expansion can do. But when there is an obvious bandwidth problem, adding more people is the solution. Expanding the Supreme Court and generally improving the organization of lower courts, without regard to the current political issues with Republican court-packing, makes sense. The court should be bigger, to allow for more cases to be heard.

But wait, if you add more justices won’t they all ask questions and all have to sit and vote and learn all the ins and outs of every case? Not necessarily. Each case could be assigned to a subset of justices. A full court would hear cases of original jurisdiction, of course, but those are rare. For appellate cases, some mixture of justices would hear arguments and vote on the outcome, and, when warranted, vote to pull in the full court on issues of particular weight or that were highly contentious.

Similar efforts already work in the legislature. The committee-to-body legislative and oversight efforts are well known and have worked well. The full chamber doesn’t have to drill down on an issue, but relies on a subset of its membership to do so and report back.

The Senate is a strange case, as expanding it would require amending the Constitution. But it could be done, keeping equal suffrage among the states, while increasing the number of senators per state to three, four, or even five. The larger number of members would be able to create more committee work with a better understanding. And more members means lobbying power is diminished, as they would have to lobby even more members.

In the House, expansion serves another purpose, which is to bring the members closer to their constituents. Each member serves an increasing number of citizens, who have less and less voice with their government as population grows. By expanding the House, more concerns can be heard by more representatives, which will help to make a more responsive government that serves the people.


The election is in about three weeks.