An essential function of American government is our system of checks and balances. Our Founding Fathers purposely structured it that way to ensure that no one branch would become too powerful. Congressional oversight is one vehicle to fulfill those checks. Through tools such as letters, briefings, hearings and work from agency inspectors general, members of Congress can keep watch over the federal government and push for changes when necessary. However, because Capitol Hill is often entrenched in legislative debates and policy battles, Congress’s oversight responsibilities are regularly overshadowed. This leaves taxpayer dollars vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse and weakens the country’s faith in its government.
I have made diligent oversight of the federal government a priority for more than three decades. It’s imperative that legislators root out waste, fraud and abuse and hold bureaucrats responsible for the financial decisions they make when they think no one is watching. My oversight work includes all federal agencies, but one agency I’ve consistently called upon for transparency and financial accountability is the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
The importance of the Defense Department can’t be understated. It’s the agency responsible for our national security and military efforts. The safety and security of this nation is the number one responsibility of the federal government, which is why oversight of the DoD is critical. There is simply too much at stake. Unfortunately, when it comes to accountability and fiscal responsibility, the DoD has continually dropped the ball. The agency also makes congressional oversight efforts difficult.
Oversight of the DoD requires a dogged agency inspector general to get to the bottom of problems and properly detail them for congressional review. Time and again, DoD investigators have been unable to conduct aggressive, hard-hitting audits and investigations, making oversight efforts arduous and change nearly impossible.
Despite these challenges and with no consideration to the political party in the White House, I’ve detailed the egregious misuse of taxpayer dollars at the DoD, sought answers from leadership at the Pentagon and investigated the ongoing failures of the Department’s accounting systems.
Under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, I sought answers as to why the Pentagon was spending $436 on hammers and $640 on toilet seats. Under President George H. W. Bush in the early 1990s, I asked why defense officials were spending $117 on soap dish covers and $999 on pliers. Under President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonVirginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins Business coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader MORE in the late 1990s, I introduced an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill to limit compensation defense contractor executives can bill taxpayers for work on military programs. This was in response to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that revealed one defense contractor paid its top executives more than $33 million in compensation. Under President George W. Bush in the early 2000s, I helped expose and crack down on the flagrant abuse of government credit cards by DoD employees. Some of those abuses included employees spending more than $13,000 at two Nevada houses of prostitution, more than $20,000 at two jewelry stores, more than $28,000 at three adult clubs, more than $34,000 on gambling transactions and more than $71,000 on tickets to entertainment events, such as Broadway shows and baseball games. Under President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee Biden congratulates Trudeau for winning third term as Canadian prime minister Republicans have moral and financial reasons to oppose raising the debt ceiling MORE in the early 2010s, I pressed the DoD to answer for a number of abuses of taxpayer dollars, including a $43 million gas station in Afghanistan and the $800 million the DoD spent on a task force to oversee its construction. Most recently, under President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE, I’ve worked to get answers from the DoD on why the agency is spending $10,000 of taxpayer money on toilet seat lids for C-17 cargo planes. Nearly four decades later, the cost of toilet seats is apparently still a problem.
These are only a few examples of many as to why congressional oversight is so important. Every year, Americans pay their federal taxes. The United States government collects trillions of dollars for the purpose of funding essential functions, including national security efforts. When unelected bureaucrats misuse, mismanage and misallocate taxpayer funds, it not only takes resources away from vital government functions, it continually weakens citizens’ faith and trust in their government.
As representatives of the people, members of Congress need to double down on their oversight efforts to give American citizens confidence that their government either plays by the rules or is held accountable. To succeed as a nation, we need to get back to a government by and for the people, rather than a government by the bureaucrats and for the connected insiders.
I’ll continue pushing for answers at the DoD and any federal agency that must be held accountable for waste, fraud and abuse. As long as I serve as a senator from Iowa, I will conduct robust and conscientious oversight to weed out government misconduct and help restore Americans’ faith in our Republic.
Grassley is chairman of the Judiciary Committee.