Former White House chief urges overhaul of congressional panels

The congressional committee structure should be overhauled to streamline oversight responsibilities, President Bush's former chief of staff said Tuesday.

Agencies are struggling to navigate the "bureaucracy" of congressional oversight, particularly in the appropriations process, said Andrew Card, who served as chief of staff from 2000 to 2006 and had a stint as the Transportation secretary in the early 1990s. He spoke at the Security Industry Association's 2007 Government Summit in downtown Washington.

Card said executive branch efforts to improve efficiency by implementing governmentwide programs have been stymied by inflexible congressional committees.

He said, for instance, that after the Homeland Security Department was created, congressional committees did not realign themselves accordingly because they did not want to give up their oversight power.

"Homeland Security officials spend most of their time appearing before different committees who have some piece of responsibility in oversight," Card said. "I would like to see a governmentwide reform effort and not just an executive branch reform … not to take away responsibility [from Congress] but to restructure."

Meanwhile, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., told the industry group that his panel takes its oversight responsibilities seriously and will continue to watch federal contracting aggressively.

"Our contracting rules need to be fair and fast," Waxman said. "The majority of federal contractors play by the rules. We have to make sure they all play by the rules."

Waxman declined to describe the federal procurement system as "broken" but said that the growth of contracting has strained the government's ability to oversee the process. He decried the practice of agencies hiring contractors to oversee contracts, and the growth of no-bid and other types of noncompetitive contracts.

Legislation sponsored by Waxman to reform the procurement system -- the Accountability in Contracting Act (H.R. 1362) -- passed 347 to 73 in the House and now awaits action by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"We need to improve the system at a time when we see such dramatic increases in government spending and there is a lot of money on the table," Waxman said. "There is somebody willing to do a lot to get that money even if it's not honest, consistent with the public interest and not by the rules."

Waxman noted that while proper oversight can lead to legislation, oversight can also lead to solutions without legislation.

General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan told the audience her agency is taking steps to improve contracting, such as opening schedule contracts to state and local governments for buying advance supplies for disasters using federal funds.

"Our goal is to move a mountain of goods and supplies to exactly where they're needed to exactly when they're needed to exactly the people who need them," Doan said. "It is absolutely a huge new market for businesses that were traditionally only federal government contractors if you look at expanding our schedules into the state and local government."

Doan declined to answer questions after the event, noting her busy schedule due to her appointment Wednesday morning before Waxman's oversight panel.

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