December 7, 2010 | Commentary on Regulation
House Republicans are on a mission to increase government oversight in the new Congress. They should start by adding a robust investigative arm to the Appropriations Committee.
This powerful committee, which doles out more than $1.1 trillion, could be ground zero for reining in out-of-control government spending — a top target of the new GOP House majority. But that won’t happen without oversight.
With three candidates vying to serve as chairman of the powerful committee next year, the time is ripe for the GOP to create an investigations subcommittee. All three candidates favor increased oversight. It’s time for Republicans to put some teeth behind it.
The idea of an investigations subcommittee was first offered by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). It’s similar to a proposal supported by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), who is seeking a waiver to keep the job as the panel’s top Republican. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) has also made oversight part of his pitch to the steering committee, which is due to select a chairman this week.
Regardless of who wins, oversight should be a priority for the new chairman. At least that’s the way Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) sees it. Flake, an anti-earmark crusader who could finally land a seat on the committee, sent a letter to his colleagues endorsing the idea.
“Taxpayers deserve an Appropriations subcommittee dedicated to oversight,” he wrote, “that can aggressively pursue an agenda focused on cutting waste, reducing duplication and increasing transparency.
House rules already give the Appropriations Committee the authority to conduct oversight responsibilities, including “studies and examinations of the organization and operation of executive departments and other executive agencies.”
In recent years, however, the work of the committee’s staff investigators has declined. When Democrats took control of the House, they further limited the oversight function. In fact, the committee’s oversight plan for this Congress was all of five paragraphs.
It’s time to reverse course.
Flake’s letter outlined seven potential areas the new subcommittee could tackle immediately. They included reviewing how the Department of Transportation awarded stimulus grants, tracking the effectiveness of Head Start spending and looking for waste in homeland security grants.
The list goes on. The Heritage Foundation’s Brian Riedl recently identified $343 billion in available spending cuts — an amount that far exceeds what House Republicans endorsed in their Pledge to America. The list includes everything from $12.5 billion for vacant federal properties to $61 million for Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment projects.
Eliminating outdated and ineffective programs, as well as ending waste, fraud and abuse, could save the government billions. The problem is that members of Congress, beholden to certain constituencies, often stand in the way of spending cuts. This must end.
One way to approach it is to revamp the appropriations process, an idea already being discussed by Speaker-elect John Boehner (R-Ohio). Creating an investigations subcommittee could also free up existing appropriations subcommittees to focus on drafting better — and less costly — spending bills.
With greater oversight Republicans could cut through the fat and make a real dent in the federal budget. This could also send a strong message to all Americans that Congress is finally getting serious about its spending addiction.
Robert Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism operation at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Politico