How Oversight Should Work

Rep. Darrell Issa
USA Today
10/10/10
Earlier this year, the Congressional Research Service released a report underscoring the important function that congressional oversight plays in working with the executive branch: “A fundamental objective of congressional oversight is to hold executive officials accountable for the implementation of delegated authority. This objective is especially important given the huge expansion of executive influence in the modern era.”

As we move closer to the November midterm elections, a discussion is taking shape regarding what kind of oversight will occur should the Republicans regain the majority in Congress. Some partisan voices have tried to push a narrative that would have America believe that oversight guided by a Republican majority would aim to stifle the White House in a series of politically motivated witch hunts.

It’s ironic that the very Democrats who are spreading this rhetorical paranoia struck a much different tone just a few years ago. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., once asked, “If we’re doing our constitutional duty of oversight, how can they refuse to give us information? If they withhold information and try to get away with it, I think it will be very unfortunate for them.”

In June of 2007, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., proclaimed, “And when people talk about this Congress, they have to recognize that there’s a big distinction between this Congress and previous Congresses in terms of shedding the light of oversight and accountability on this administration.”

And when discussing the importance that Waxman would play in his new role as chairman of the Oversight Committee, former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said, “We want to be the party that is ferreting out waste and fraud, and (the Oversight) committee is the point of the spear for us.”

Emanuel, Pelosi and Waxman certainly had a very clear, concise and concrete definition of what oversight meant to them.

‘A renewed spirit of action’

The truth is, the only way the Republicans can regain the majority in Congress is if the American people send the message to Washington that they want change from the status quo. This means coming to the table with a renewed spirit of action and reform where common sense is the ideology.

Bottom line: Nothing could be more counterproductive and destructive to this effort than embarking on a series of misguided and politically motivated investigations.

Oversight is not and should not be used as a political weapon against the occupant of the Oval Office. It should not be an instrument of fear or the exclusive domain of the party that controls Congress. Oversight should make the people’s government work better for them. Oversight should force the bureaucracy to identify and correct waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement. Oversight should leverage the resources of the 21st century to make the federal bureaucracy transparent, accountable and a model of efficiency and effectiveness.

No matter who controls the Congress next year, the reality is we have a federal bureaucracy that has been tasked with absorbing, distributing and overseeing trillion dollar bailouts, a trillion dollar stimulus and a trillion dollar health care package.

Whether you agree or disagree with these policies, the result is a federal bureaucracy that has grown in size, scope, authority and responsibility. Oversight, however, has not kept pace with the growth of government. Earl Devaney, whom President Obama appointed to coordinate efforts to weed out waste in the stimulus bill, estimated that 7% of all government spending is lost to fraud. If we ever hope to improve on this or cut other excessive spending, then more rigorous oversight must be a top priority.

The only way to begin this effort is working with the administration on what deserves to be a bipartisan effort.

While the Oversight and Government Reform Committee may attract more attention for its oversight efforts, it’s the ability — or, more accurately, responsibility — of this committee to reform broken government that needs emphasis.

Tackling the bureaucracy

Regardless of whether I serve on this committee as chairman or ranking member next Congress, I will continue efforts to reform a bureaucracy that is overrun with waste, fraud, and mismanagement and leave a legacy behind that make government work better for all Americans.

It’s very clear that the American people do not want a divided government hell-bent on fighting one another in an attempt to score cheap political points. They want a government with checks and balances, run by adults who are up to the task of solving the very real problems confronting our nation.

Republicans and Democrats have very different and fundamental views on the federal government’s role in our lives. And while we may disagree on what policies should be advanced to address the challenges of today, that doesn’t mean we cannot agree and work together on what we already know is broken. That doesn’t mean we can’t be better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.

I am committed to seeking out the cooperation and, if he’s willing, a partnership with our president to conduct rigorous oversight that leads to bipartisan reforms and, ultimately, more transparency and accountability to government. The enemy isn’t Republicans or Democrats. It’s the bureaucracy.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.