Leadership changes expected on key government reform committees

Term limits, retirements and mid-term election results will play key roles in determining the leadership of the House Government Reform and Senate Governmental Affairs Committees in the next congressional session.

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who took the helm of the House Government Reform Committee in 1997, will give up his gavel at the end of the 107th Congress because of a term limits rule prohibiting House lawmakers from holding a full or subcommittee chairmanship for more than six years.

Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., who has the most seniority on the committee, is retiring, but two other lawmakers have expressed interest in the position-Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Christopher Shays, R-Conn. Spokesmen for both congressmen were tight-lipped on specifics, but indicated that their bosses were interested in the job.

"As chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Davis is focused on increasing Republicans' majority in the House," said David Marin, Davis' spokesman. "Once that's accomplished, he'll look to the future. That will include making the case as to why he's the best choice to chair the Government Reform Committee."

Davis, who represents a large constituency of federal employees, spent six years as chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the District of Columbia and is now chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy.

Betsy Hawkings, chief of staff for Shays, confirmed that taking over the committee was on the congressman's agenda.

"First he needs to get re-elected and ensure that Republicans stay in the majority and, after that, he will be thinking about the chairmanship," Hawkings said.

Shays, who is chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations, has fought against financial mismanagement at the Defense Department. During recent debate on the bill to create a Department of Homeland Security, he added an amendment that would let the president waive union rights for department employees in times of national emergency.

According to Paul Light, vice president and director of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution, either congressman would be a significant change from Burton and would likely make civil service reform a more visible part of the committee's legislative agenda.

"I think Shays is a smart member of Congress and Tom Davis, because of where he runs and his past interests, would really put a lot focus on civil service issues," Light said. "Either one of them is going to be radically different from Dan Burton," who did not make civil service reform a high priority, Light added.

The pending retirement of Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, creates a vacancy on a committee that plays a large role in the debate over the creation of the Homeland Security Department.

Sen. Ted Stevens is the most senior Republican on the committee, but the Alaskan already serves as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Next in line are Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who served as a Governmental Affairs Committee staff member before taking office, and Sen. George Voinvovich, R-Ohio, a strong civil service reform advocate.

Collins, who is in a tight race for re-election, was one of three Republicans on the committee to vote for a version of the homeland security bill that preserved civil service rights for employees, charging that the White House plan was "too broad." Stevens and Voinovich cast the other two votes.

In Light's opinion, Collins' record and experience make her the best fit for the position.

"Collins has a well-established agenda of good government reform, she knows the committee inside and out," Light said. "I would expect her to be an aggressive ranking member or chairwoman. If we have to lose Thompson, Collins is a wonderful replacement."

Union officials were more cautious about stating a preference for any of the potential committee leaders.

"We, of course, would like to have legislators that are pro-federal employees chairing these important committees," said John Irvine, spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union.

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