Hill Power

Increased congressional oversight is great. Productive reform would be even better.

It doesn't seem that long ago that one of the top story lines on Capitol Hill revolved around charges that oversight of executive branch operations was lacking.

In a September 2006 speech at the Center for American Progress, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said, "We've had an imperial presidency and a subservient Congress for the last five years, and the costs to the nation have been enormous. . . . Simply by holding hearings, asking questions and releasing information, Congress can influence the direction of the nation," Waxman said. But, he added, "No matter how big the issue, Congress now looks away."

Waxman and his Democratic colleagues have managed to solve that problem-in spades. As Robert Brodsky reports in our cover story in this issue, since the Democrats swept into power on Capitol Hill in 2006 and Waxman took the helm of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (tellingly, he reversed the key words in the panel's name to put the emphasis on "oversight"), he has held two dozen hearings related to the federal contracting sector alone.

There's a question, though, about just how productive all this oversight has been. Sure, it generates juicy headlines about waste, fraud and abuse. But its central result has been a layering on of more rules, regulations and reporting requirements, all of which could be combining to drive contractors out of the federal market. And, as Brodsky points out, only once since 2007 have lawmakers managed to turn their attention in a hearing to the issue of the federal acquisition workforce, and what can be done to bolster its ability to improve the management of the contracting process.

Legislators seem to have little inclination to take on that kind of roll-up-your-sleeves work to improve government operations. At this point, some observers have all but given up hope that they will do so. As Timothy Clark points out in his Perspectives column this month, erstwhile Government Executive columnist and public administration scholar Paul C. Light has a new book out in which he makes the case for an independent commission to take up the task. The panel, modeled on the military base closing commission, would craft a series of recommendations related to key issues such as contracting, the political appointments process and the organization of government. Congress would then get to hold an up-or-down vote on the proposals.

It would be better if lawmakers weren't relegated to the sidelines of the process. But that might be what it takes to get action on critical management issues the federal government faces.

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 GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


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