Darrell Issa's chance to make his mark on government oversight
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is now poised to become chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee. As chairman of the most powerful oversight committee in the new Republican House, Issa will have enormous power to set the agenda for both monitoring government and changing it.
It is no small irony that Issa made his personal fortune with the Viper, an automobile alarm system. Issa has earned a well-deserved reputation as a viper in his own right by mounting constant attacks on the Obama administration. He's been asking tough questions and has already said he'll investigate the food safety system, which continues to produce one meltdown after another.
Issa is right to mount an aggressive oversight agenda--that's his committee's responsibility, and has been for decades. But just what shape will his oversight take? And will it lead to real government reform?
Democrats are right to wonder whether Issa will follow in the footsteps of the committee's former chairman Dan Burton (R-IN). Having announced his intention to drive President Bill Clinton from office, Burton spent his first four years as chairman issuing one subpoena after another about everything from misuse of the White House Christmas card list to special favors such as nights in the Lincoln bedroom for high rollers. He stepped down in 2003 having done little more than tarnish the committee's reputation.
Luckily for the committee, Burton was followed by Tom Davis (R-VA), one of the best of the best. He did his share of big-ticket investigations despite the pressure to protect the Bush administration. He also produced notable reforms in the still-struggling Department of Homeland Security, helped rebuild the Federal Emergency Management Agency and even produced a huge reform package on presidential appointments that was eventually killed by a narrow-minded Senate. He was also bipartisan.
Will Issa set course as another Burton or Davis? The answer is up to Issa. He's much more strategic than Burton for sure; and he has the political savvy to spin the current turmoil to legislative success. He knows more about government than his press releases show, and has an entrepreneur's eye. He may be just the chairman to produce the kind of major government reform so desperately needed today.
Issa certainly knows that the nation needs a more accountable, efficient and productive bureaucracy. But what he may not realize is that there is $1 trillion in savings through long-overdue reform.
The options are already there for the taking: $1 billion over the next ten years by cutting the number of presidential appointees; $100 billion by eliminating needless management layers throughout the bloated federal hierarchy; $200 billion by eliminating many of the federal jobs about to be vacated by the baby boomers; $200 billion by cutting the contracting workforce; $100 billion by increasing federal productivity; $300 billion by merging duplicated programs; and $200 billion by eliminating programs that either do not produce results or are too trivial to bother.
These changes would be tough and have to be fleshed out in real legislation. They also need to be "scored" for actual savings. Issa might start by reaching out to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in giving the federal Inspectors General the authority and staff to start looking for big-ticket savings. He should also work with new Comptroller General Gene Dodaro and Obama's next budget chief, Jack Lew. All are interested in comprehensive reform, as is former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul A. Volcker.
Yes, Issa will conduct tough oversight. And yes, he'll get nasty. But he should also look for the grand compromise on government reform that is so much easier to forge in divided government. That's what the Republicans did in 1947 when they created the National Commission on Executive Organization chaired by former president Herbert Hoover. It is also what former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker intends to produce through the Campaign for High Performance Government, which is housed at my school. Issa should put Volcker on his call list right away.
Issa could be the next great chairman of Government Reform and Oversight. I like to believe he will try. Pay and hiring freezes produce little more than small change and wreck havoc on government performance. So do the random hiring cuts that are now circulating in proposed legislation. If Issa wants to be known for something big, there's nothing more important than big-ticket bureaucratic reform. He should start work now. It's his choice.
November 4, 2010; 3:43 PM ET |
Federal government leadership
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