Who's Minding the Store?


Of the myriad of promises our President has made, a common refrain has been "transparency of government and accountability to the American people". Indeed, he wasted no time as seen here:


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 21, 2009


SUBJECT: Transparency and Open Government

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government

A truly noble thought. We should know what our Government is doing. One small problem: The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, under new Chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), evidently did not get this memo. It appears this august body, whose mandate is to ensure that very transparency and open Government President Obama seeks to bring to unprecedented levels, has not yet convened.

An odd set of circumstances given the current state of affairs. They should be the busiest little beavers in D.C. Just ask Rep. Waxman. Under his stewardship, the Committee held the Bush Administration under a microscope and STILL found time to investigate MLB's steroid problem. In the waning year of President Bush's term, Rep. Waxman, along with Rep. Barney Frank also found the time (over the holiday recess yet!) to hold extensive hearings into the mortgage/credit crisis, at the behest of Madam Speaker. (I'll leave it to some of my colleagues to comment on their findings.)

Now, to be fair, the Committee will hold their first meeting this week. No, not on the economic crisis. Their first order of business is an examination of the Excluded Parties List System, a federal database intended to prevent persons and businesses ineligible to receive federal contracts due to past misconduct from receiving new awards. No, I'm not making that up. Hey, I'm sure they just want to make sure no miscreants slipped through the back door.

Still, I'm not feeling the urgency. Chairman Towns' staff has attributed the slow start to transitional issues. Of course, Rep. Waxman has hit the ground running on his new committee, but then, he has extensive experience holding hearings as we've seen. I suppose it didn't help matters that the Oversight Committee was among the last to get staffed. Yes, that's right...the Committee charged with OVERSIGHT was among the last to be staffed.

It seems the Committee has lost some of its stature. So what's different? Well, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) offers this theory:

“Speaker Pelosi gutted this committee,” said the panel’s ranking member, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) Issa defended Towns in the face of having “no money, no staff and no members,” but he questioned Pelosi’s commitment to rigorous oversight under the Obama administration.

“She could have gutted the ability for Henry Waxman to do oversight two years ago if she wanted to,” Issa said. “But it wasn’t until President Obama took office that she did so.”

Surely, Rep. Issa must be wrong. Speaker Pelosi wouldn't do that. It flies in the face of the change she and our President promised to bring to Washington. It must just be those pesky transitional issues.

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