Former GAO head seeks congressional OK for cost-cutting commission
- By Adam Mazmanian
- Jun 18, 2013
David Walker, the leader of the Government Transformation Initiative, wants Congress to authorize a commission to recommend cuts to government programs.
A group seeking to trim government waste is asking Congress to give an expert commission the authority to suggest cuts to government programs.
Former Comptroller General David Walker is leading the group, called the Government Transformation Initiative. The group wants to establish a seven-member commission, authorized by Congress, along the lines of Defense Base Realignment and Closure commissions.
Billed as a nonpartisan effort to improve the performance of government, the proposal is raising the ire of federal unions. J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, said the plan "amounts to a usurpation of the role of Congress" in testimony during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on June 18.
The proposed Government Transformation Commission would build on the lessons of past government improvement commissions, from as far back as the administration of Theodore Roosevelt. Before delivering his testimony, Walker told FCW that he sees a need to create a mechanism to take the work done by the Government Accountability Office, agency inspectors general, and the Office of Management and Budget and turn it into "specific, actionable recommendations."
Walker, who led GAO for 10 years, lamented that the office doesn't have the authority to make actionable recommendations for specific program cuts and consolidations as part of its audits and reports.
Three members of the proposed commission would be appointed by the president and the remaining four nominated by Congress -- two by Democrats, two by Republicans. The presidential nominees would include a Democrat, a Republican and an independent. Like the BRAC commssions, the commission proposed by Walker would make an annual round of recommendations to Congress. The recommendations would be voted on without going through authorizing committees and would not be subject to amendment.
If lawmakers do turn Walker's idea into a legislative proposal, it would be up to Congress to determine the scope and authority of the committee, he said.
Throughout his testimony, Walker emphasized that the goal of the commission was not to make policy decisions but to improve the administration of policy by government agencies and recommend ways to reduce wasteful spending.
Cox painted a direr picture, warning that "committees of jurisdiction would be forced to bow to the wisdom of unelected commissioners, aided by the private consultants of GTI."
The Government Transformation Initiative is backed by an array of auditing firms and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Walker told FCW that "most of the contributions are coming in the form of sweat equity -- people donating time and donating time of staff. This is not a large, heavily funded operation."
Walker was joined by Stephen Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis and now a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government; Brookings Institution fellow Elaine Kamarck, who managed the National Performance Review under the Clinton administration; and Dan Chenok, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government.
Kamarck sought to assure Democrats on the panel that the time was ripe to take a hard look at duplicative or unnecessary government programs. "Those of us who would like to believe in activist government, you cannot do that...unless you have people thinking that people working inside the government are working at efficiency."
Goldsmith stressed the importance of the commission as a "forcing mechanism to give taxpayers the government they deserve."
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is warming to the idea. "I believe we can and must have it," he said near the close of the hearing. There is no timetable for specific legislation.
Adam Mazmanian is FCW's senior staff writer, and covers Congress, health IT and governmentwide IT policy. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.