Term limits and retirements will alter the lineup of committee chairs with jurisdiction over federal IT policy.
Capitol Hill retirements are making regular news as the 2014 midterm campaigns get into full swing, and a picture is emerging of what the next Congress could look like, especially in terms of plum committee assignments.
The federal IT community will keenly experience the absence of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) at the helm of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. After two terms as chairman and one as ranking member, the combative Issa will be handing over his gavel.
Issa is the public face of Republican efforts to investigate high-profile issues like the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the targeting of right-leaning political advocacy groups by the IRS. But he has also taken the lead on oversight of federal IT spending and policy.
He is continuing a push to have his stalled Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), which he cosponsored with Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), become law in 2014. Issa is also a strong advocate for a bipartisan spending transparency measure called the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which originated in his committee and is being shepherded in the Senate by Virginia Democrat Mark Warner.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) is next in line to take the gavel at Oversight in terms of seniority, assuming Republicans maintain control of the House. He’s taken a strong hand on issues such as federal real estate management as chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, and expressed interest in taking over the full committee. If Mica is passed over, other candidates include Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security.
Jordan is a tea party favorite and tough interrogator in committee hearings who has bucked party leadership on occasion. Chaffetz is among those leading the charge on Benghazi, and is also known as a tech-savvy member. A dark horse for the slot could be Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), a longtime intimate of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) who is a recent addition to the committee. Of the possible candidates, only Chaffetz seems to have the background and interest to maintain Issa’s focus on federal IT as a key oversight issue.
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) will be handing off the gavel at the Small Business Committee, which is critically important to small firms looking to do business as government contractors. The committee has looked into strategic sourcing, small business set asides, and has direct oversight authority of the Small Business Administration. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) is the most senior member on the committee, and is the most likely candidate to take over. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), head of the Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce, is a possible challenger, along with Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), a cybersecurity hawk who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Justice and Commerce departments along with NASA and the National Science Foundation, is stepping down after 17 terms in the House. Wolf is the architect of legislative restrictions on the acquisition of China-made IT by agencies under his appropriations authority. The restrictions are up for reauthorization in the appropriations package now wending its way through Congress, and are controversial among industry groups. It remains to be seen who – if anyone – picks up the torch for the rules after Wolf leaves.
The Senate could flip to Republicans in the fall elections, which would mean a shift to GOP chairman across the board. Federal IT watchers might feel this most notably on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where spending hawk Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is in line to take over. However, Coburn recently revealed he was undergoing chemotherapy for prostate cancer, and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of cutting his term short to attend to his treatment.
No matter what happens, the chairmanship of the powerful Commerce Committee will change hands in 2015. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is retiring, and oversight of key technology issues such as telecommunications networks, the Federal Communications Commission, data privacy, much of the civilian cybersecurity portfolio, technology research and development come under the panel’s purview.
If Democrats hold the Senate, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is next in line in terms of seniority, followed by Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
Decisions on committee gavels are almost a year away, so the situation could change considerably. The Senate was already upended a bit by the recent nomination of Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to serve as ambassador to China, and movement to fill a cascade of open committee slots could change the succession picture in the upper chamber no matter which party is in control.