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Tester takes leadership role on federal efficiency

Jon Tester

Jon Tester, Montana's junior senator, has taken the helm of a new subcommittee overseeing the efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs.

As a sitting U.S. senator, Jon Tester has an inevitable prominence. Still, it's possible that federal employees might overlook the Montana farmer's new subcommittee, which is charged with oversight of the efficiency of federal programs. A primary area of focus: Getting agencies with overlapping programs to do a better job of working together.

"I think the first thing we need to do is set a good example in the Senate," Tester told FCW. Committees with overlapping jurisdictions can and should improve their sharing of information, avoid turf battles, and work together. Tester sees his role as bringing together people with common problems, and trying to identify possible solutions. "This isn't rocket science. It's pretty much common sense," he said.

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Agencies and personnel benefit from congressional oversight, when it's done in the right spirit, he said. "I want to do it with a carrot, rather than a stick. If you walk in and point fingers and give them the what-for – which sometimes you have to do – that can be devastating to morale. But if you're there hearing concerns, asking pertinent questions – it can help morale."

The Subcommittee on Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce, under the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, held its inaugural hearing last month. That meeting spotlighted efforts to improve the quality of health care in rural America by encouraging collaboration between the Health and Human Services Department, the Indian Health Service and Veterans Affairs.

The subcommittee partnered with the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, chaired by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), for a June 20 hearing on problems in the security classification process. That hearing yielded the news that USIS, which conducts background checks for the government, was under investigation by the inspector general at the Office of Personnel Management.

Tester is looking to strengthen the ranks of government watchdogs by urging the Obama administration to appoint and confirm inspectors general in departments where the post is vacant. "We need to empower folks who are willing to move to the frontlines in the fight against waste, fraud and abuse," Tester said in a May speech to an annual meeting of IGs. "It won't be easy, but we're going to push policies that force government agencies to work together and deliver services" to the public he said.

He is also looking for Congress to get its own house in order on the budget. The across-the-board budget cuts of sequestration, he said, promote the kind of inefficiency he's trying to root out. Tester contended that the cuts disproportionally punish agencies that were already running lean, and encourage government managers to fatten up budget requests.

Nor does Tester buy the argument that simply cutting waste is a path to prosperity. "To assume our budget problems are from a wasteful government is probably the wrong assumption," he said.

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Reader comments

Thu, Jun 27, 2013

He should start with Congress!

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