The Watchdog Growls

But his appetite should not be feared.

After six years of hibernation, the congressional watchdog is ravenously ready to devour a long menu of savory items. From the dais, it growls warnings to agencies and companies about failure to comply with demands for sustenance. Subpoenas are in the air, and at least one administration witness is pleading the Fifth. Should we fear or welcome the newly wakened dog?

Let's stipulate at the outset that oversight is overdue. For too long under one-party rule, House and Senate committees have had little interest in questioning questionable policies, or exposing flaws in programs. Only when disastrous performance was as plain to see as the trunk of an elephant would Congress pounce, like a chicken on a June bug, on the hapless likes of Michael Brown, scapegoat of the New Orleans hurricane recovery fiasco.

For the past six years, Congress has reneged on its duty to oversee the executive branch, especially on foreign and national security policy. It's not as if there weren't a few things to discuss: misuse of intelligence, the conduct of postwar affairs in Iraq, relationships with our traditional allies, the root causes of conflict, insurgency, terrorism in the Middle East and more.

Domestic programs too have suffered from lack of oversight. Once, congressional committees would hold extensive hearings before recommending new programs and oversight hearings as these programs came up for reauthorization. The process allowed careful consideration of performance and potential improvements. And it helped the legislative and executive branches develop a shared understanding of federal objectives.

This halcyon era is long gone. In Congress, Republican majorities have seen themselves as little more than extensions of the White House during the Bush administration. The explosion of earmarking also conspired to rob programs of integrity, if not purpose.

The new Democratic Congress has made a promising beginning, especially on Iraq and national security matters. It's held more than 100 hearings on Iraq in its first 100 days. But it has yet to show that it will seriously examine the base of federal spending, as it should by revitalizing the reauthorization process. Indeed, agency budgets have been put on autopilot for the balance of the fiscal year.

Agency program managers, especially those devoted to a performance culture, should welcome more oversight, for it can only lend more legitimacy to their endeavors. Where there are problems, exposure can and should lead to corrective action.

Our magazine likes to expose successes as well as problems, and readers this month will find a special supplement devoted to the 63 winners of the 2006 Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Executives and Professionals. They were chosen last fall, but go barely recognized until an April dinner at the State Department, co-sponsored this year by Government Executive and the Senior Executives Association. Now, with this supplement, their stories will receive the wider notice they deserve.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.