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.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

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

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

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