Updated Sept. 9 at 12:15 p.m.

As Congress returns from its summer recess Monday, it is worth watching to see whether our nation's lawmakers will set a new low bar for productivity.

So far this year, the 116th Congress has passed only 56 bills into law — 16 fewer than the lowest number passed in a single calendar year over the last 30 years. In general, Congress passes more bills in even-numbered years, before it adjourns for elections, but this year's output thus far is still dramatically low.

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Of course, the sheer number of bills passed does not really define the impact or import of Congress. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security, one of the most sweeping overhauls of government in a generation, was achieved with a single law passed in 2002. On the other end of the spectrum, a single law signed in August achieved the renaming of a Hardin, Texas post office. Ten of the 56 bills passed into law so far this year renamed post offices or other federal facilities.

There are also other measures of Congressional productivity. For instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might point out that Congress has confirmed nearly 150 federal judges to lifetime appointments since President Trump took office, which, unlike passage of a federal law, does not require bipartisan consent.

Still, since Congress is the nation's legislative body, it seems fair to judge them at least in part on legislative output. Thus far this year, that output can fairly be described as anemic.

Paul Singer is the investigations editor and Hannah Reale is an intern at WGBH's New England Center for Investigative Reporting.