Feds Should Keep an Eye on the Race to Replace Darrell Issa

Issa listens as then-Secret Service director Julia Pierson answers questions Sept. 30 about the  White House security breach. Issa listens as then-Secret Service director Julia Pierson answers questions Sept. 30 about the White House security breach. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Federal employees following the mid-term congressional races should tune into another contest that could more directly affect their pay and jobs: The campaign to become the next chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Current Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is at the end of his term-limited six-year tenure leading the panel, and there is no shortage of Republican lawmakers hoping to succeed him as head of one of the most partisan committees in the House. The crop of conservative hopefuls include Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Jim Jordan of Ohio.

Reps. John Mica of Florida and Michael Turner of Ohio also reportedly have expressed interest in leading a panel that, under Issa’s leadership, successfully shepherded a bill through the House making it easier to fire senior executives, delved deeply into the complicated and politically sensitive issue of postal reform, and made former IRS official Lois Lerner a household name.

Chaffetz, Jordan and Mica all head Oversight and Government Reform subcommittees, so are well-positioned for the top leadership job. While Mica has the most seniority (he’s been in Congress since 1993), Chaffetz has been actively positioning himself for the job this past year. In March, the third-term congressman told Politico in an interview: “I put my flag in the ground early; I’m not trying to be coy. I’m being direct that I fully intend to put my name in to be the next chairman of the Oversight Committee. It’s something I’ve wanted to do before I even got to Congress. The Oversight Committee has been my No. 1 choice every single term.”

The Utah Republican is media-savvy, frequently putting himself front and center on hot topics. He appeared on major news networks commenting on security breaches at the White House shortly after the stories broke, and along with Issa, has led the investigation into the 2012 attacks that killed four Americans at the U.S. embassy in Libya.

If elected chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz will focus on reforms with the Secret Service and embassy security, said spokeswoman MJ Henshaw. Chaffetz has sponsored bills that would allow the federal government to fire employees who cheat on their taxes, as well as more bipartisan efforts allowing feds to deposit lump sums from their unused annual leave into their Thrift Savings Plan accounts to boost their savings.

Jordan and Mica are less visible in national news, but no less interested in oversight of the executive branch. Jordan has taken prominent and aggressive roles in the investigations into the IRS and the Benghazi attacks, while Mica has played central roles during his tenure in crafting reauthorization legislation for the Federal Aviation Administration, and has been vocal about the amount of money federal agencies spend on conferences.

Turner, whose district is home to Wright-Patterson Air Force base and thousands of civilian Defense employees, voted against the 2011 Budget Control Act, which mandated the sequester. In 2013, he co-sponsored a bill that would pay for one year of defense and non-defense sequestration by requiring a 10 percent reduction over 10 years in the federal workforce through attrition and a pay freeze for members of Congress.

Republican lawmakers will vote on new committee heads in November, after the mid-term elections.

Issa, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, decided not to seek a waiver from GOP leadership to continue as chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The California Republican, who has made liberal use of the panel’s subpoena power during his tenure, has had a fractious relationship with the committee’s Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Md. While they have worked together on some issues, Postal Service reform and more recently, the investigation into security breaches at the White House, they clash more often than not. Their feud culminated in Issa cutting off Cummings’ microphone when he was speaking during a contentious IRS hearing in March.

Cummings wouldn’t comment on potential Issa replacements, but said “whoever that person is has a tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of Americans in real and meaningful ways by focusing on bipartisan issues that matter most to their everyday lives – their homes, health, jobs and education.” And in a dig at Issa added:  “Unfortunately, since the Republicans gained control of the House four years ago, the committee has pursued a largely partisan agenda, so I hope the next chairman will join me in developing constructive reforms as well as conducting diligent oversight.”

Chaffetz and Cummings have a cordial relationship, and this past summer visited one another’s congressional districts in an effort to demonstrate bipartisanship.

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