The top Republican lawmaker on Thursday unveiled a series of policy initiatives to provide more oversight of federal agencies, employees and their spending habits as part of a broad effort to rein in an “arrogant” federal government.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., put forward the latest in a GOP collection of policy proposals, known as A Better Way, this one focusing on ensuring the government upholds the Constitution and carries out exactly what Congress has authorized -- and nothing more.
“Just as the size of government has grown, so has its arrogance,” Ryan wrote in a report outlining the new Republican agenda. “Washington spends money it isn’t authorized to spend. It takes power it isn't given. It ignores laws it is required to execute. It doesn’t listen, and it certainly doesn’t care to learn.”
The tenets of the proposals include reestablishing and enforcing limits on agency authority, conducting more “robust oversight” of the executive branch, reforming the rulemaking process and exercising the “power of the purse.” The fix, Ryan said, is not a simple one and will require a slew of laws and tools to ensure “agencies and bureaucracies adhere to the letter of the law.”
The speaker, in conjunction with a task force of Republican House leaders, suggested requiring more legislation to specifically authorize agencies to operate -- akin to the annual National Defense Authorization Act -- and for committee chairmen to ensure programs, offices and agencies are performing as intended before reauthorizing them. The group prescribed that Congress adopt more sunset language in legislation so unneeded agencies and programs are automatically terminated after their requirements are fulfilled.
Lawmakers should be able to hold an up-or-down vote on every element of an appropriations bill, Ryan said, to make it easier to strike spending on programs that have not specifically been authorized.
Ryan also said federal employees “routinely exploit vaguely worded language or ignore the stated purpose altogether” of federal statute, and called on lawmakers to write clearer bills that eliminate ambiguity he accused agencies of exploiting. Agencies should consult congressional committees before issuing any regulation, he said, and any “major” rule should go to Congress for an up-or-down vote. Agencies and inspectors general would also be required to periodically review every major regulation.
The plan calls for any federal employee who establishes a policy that contradicts a federal law to explain that decision to Congress. Ryan said any lawsuit against the executive branch should be expedited to the Supreme Court and that IGs should be empowered to compel non-government employees to provide testimony.
Congress should have more authority to block funding for implementations of individual agency actions it deems “improper,” Ryan said. He also called for a return to the regular appropriations process, as omnibus bills give the administration too much “leverage over the negotiations.”
The task force called for strengthening the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits agencies from expending more money than has been appropriated, to automatically fire any employees found guilty of violating it. The employees would potentially be on the hook for paying back the government a sum up to the amount of overspending.
Agency heads, meanwhile, would have to hold regular “informal conversations” with lawmakers, creating a better way to share the “goings-on at the agency” without the normal vetting that accompanies official congressional testimony.
Ryan echoed his previous calls to require agencies to post more financial information on digital dashboards and to link financial data to performance data.
The federal government, the task force said, is lacking respect for the will of the people. The task of recreating a government that listens to its citizens -- rather than an “unaccountable bureaucracy” -- is difficult, they wrote, but one that is “more than necessary.”