Oversight shouldn’t be a partisan exercise, but a serious evaluation and accounting of how taxpayer dollars are being utilized by federal agencies. From the publicly rejected Obamacare, to large acquisition reform, exploding government payrolls, and regulatory policies that defy economic logic, Congress needs to get back in the business of demanding more from federal agencies. We must end the days of requesting agency reports that go nowhere and get back in the business of true oversight and reform.
Take for example the U.S. Coast Guard’s $24 billion Deepwater Acquisition Program – a program to replace severely aging boats and aircraft for a 21st century mission set. Six years ago, while few doubted the Coast Guard’s serious need for new assets, the sliding acquisition schedule, abysmal accounting, and ballooning costs were nothing short of a budgetary mess. So much so, that I slashed the fiscal year 2005 funding in half - $466 million - and took a lot of heat for it on both sides of the aisle. Members were predictably upset, but the subcommittee never wavered in its convictions.
But the end result? The Coast Guard and OMB were forced to submit a realistic plan, retool their acquisition teams, and retake the helm of a program that was on its way down into the abyss. Deepwater still isn’t completely out of deepwater yet, but it is in much better shape because of reforms begun through the Appropriations Committee, in collaboration with GAO, and then codified by the authorizers.
This is an example of oversight done right.
And we’ve done it elsewhere under my watch: tying internal reforms at the UN to U.S. State Department dues; rejecting the Census Bureau’s inane sampling rule; questioning TSA’s proposal to add 5,000 additional screeners just to operate new machinery that theoretically should reduce manpower needs; fending off President Obama’s ill-conceived Guantanamo detainee transfer to U.S. soil; and many more.
With an EPA that is simply out of touch with working families and a president hell-bent on forcing healthcare penalties on small businesses, we’ve got our work cut out for us.
Because of our budget realities and the public’s lost confidence in Washington, Congress must work more closely and more collaboratively on executing oversight than ever before. When a problem is identified by the authorizers in Congress, the Appropriations Committee must enact funding reductions until the agency can put together a plan that will bring about results without wasting taxpayer dollars. Congress must get into the weeds, root out wasteful programs and stop regulations that trample the liberties of the American people. Congress must also hold department heads’ feet to the fire and reject “more money” solutions.
If given the opportunity, I’ll usher in a prioritization of oversight for the Appropriations Committee built on a partnership with the authorizing committees. We no longer have the luxury to let favored, yet troublesome programs slip by or to allow turf battles to cloud our shared interest in protecting the taxpayer. There is no room for failure and we must demand excellence, leadership, and sacrifice from federal agencies and ourselves every step of the way if we’re to regain the public trust and get our nation back on track.
Congressman Hal Rogers represents Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District and currently serves as the Ranking Member on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.