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.
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:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • 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.

    Download
  • 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.

    Download
  • 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.

    Download
  • 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

    Download
  • 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.

    Download

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