The new Republican-controlled Congress will be philosophically more “pro-contracting,” Tom Davis, a former Virginia GOP congressman, told contractors gathered for post-election analysis on Friday.
“Republicans are more market-oriented and are less concerned with pleasing the unions and redistributing the federal largesse in such efforts as Buy America,” the retired House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman said at a panel discussion sponsored by the Professional Services Council.
Both incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, “would like to get back to regular order” in introducing and amending bills and following the budget law’s schedule, Davis added. “Under the past two presidents, we never quite found a rhythm to govern that actually puts a work product on the president’s desk.”
Davis advised the council, which represents about 375 companies, to “get engaged through your local offices in the states and cities and not be a Washington interest group.”
A generally optimistic forecast for moving legislation was the consensus from a panel of lobbyists who previously worked on Capitol Hill. “I think members will give the new majority a chance to take advantage of a full-year omnibus spending bill, rather than a short-term continuing resolution that no amount of droning from the right” will interfere with, said Jim Dyer, a former appropriations staffer now principal with the Podesta Group. “2016 will be more problematic when the budget deal expires and sequestration caps need adjusting.”
The outcome of maneuvering to replace term-limited Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in chairing the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is pitting the “aggressive” Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, against the “more cautious” Michael Turner, R-Ohio, noted David Marin, a principal with the Podesta Group who was staff director of the committee under Tom Davis. “Both understand the need for a less partisan tone and creating some distance from Issa, who damaged the committee by overplaying his hand.”
Still, the Republican takeover of the Senate will bring “bicameral oversight panels with more investigations of Obama” on such issues as Ebola response, immigration and the Internal Revenue Service, Marin added. “It’s a target-rich environment.”
Federal employees, he said, “should roll up their sleeves and expect fresh efforts to cut pay, increase retirement contributions and impose reductions in force.” Contractors should expect more targeting of executive compensation, he said. “But because the Republicans ran on an anti-Obama platform rather than on policy, that leaves question marks.”
From the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Marin expects likely Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., a conservative businessman, to “take a fresh look at government organization authority and reduce duplication.”
Andrew Howell, a partner with the Monument Policy Group, said Johnson is also likely to focus more on legislation than on the investigative projects favored by the staff of the panel’s retiring ranking member, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. But the committee will continue to pursue allegations of waste, fraud and abuse, as well as address cybersecurity.
The House Homeland Security panel may seek to draft a Homeland Security authorization bill even with ongoing controversy over immigration reform, Howell said. The Transportation Security Administration, whose chief John Pistole just retired, “will continue to be a whipping boy,” he added.
The Senate Armed Services Committee, under John McCain, R-Ariz., is likely to focus on acquisition reform, as will the House counterpart under Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, according to Ashely Hoy, also a principal at the Monument Policy Group. Both lawmakers have long advocated significant changes in how the Pentagon develops and buys new weapons.
Alan Chvotkin, the council’s executive vice president and counsel, outlined the Senate musical chairs that could make Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. He expressed optimism that the current Congress during the December lame-duck session will enact a National Defense Authorization bill, “and not break its 51-year record of enacting one,” he said. The product, however, “may be late or smaller, perhaps jettisoning” some of the reforms related to empowering chief information officers to streamline acquisition. Chvotkin expects the new Congress to focus on security clearance reform, among other issues, noting that 25 percent of clearances are for contractors.