Editorial: First, heal thyself

Lawmakers recently passed a bill that seeks to codify numerous recommendations of the 9/11 Commission into law, yet they  have taken few additional steps to change the way Congress operates.

Last August in this space, we noted how important it is for Congress to lead by example, yet nobody wants to discuss the Hill’s role.

Perhaps Congress’ most important role is in the budget process. Unfortunately, it is an exceptional year when lawmakers pass agency budgets near the end of the fiscal year. More often, agencies are stuck with a continuing resolution or omnibus spending bills, which are then layered with pet programs that often distract agency officials from their real missions.

Under those circumstances, agencies are unable to adequately plan because they don’t know how much money they will have to spend until late in the fiscal year. Even worse, agencies often must use that money by the end of the fiscal year, which gives them only a few months to spend the funds, sometimes forcing them to go on a spending spree, or else potentially lose those funds.

Finally, the budgeting process fails to encourage agencies to work together. Because lawmakers on various committees are busy protecting their own powers of the purse,  the budget process remains largely byzantine.

Everybody knows that the budget process is broken, but almost no one on Capitol Hills talks about it. Last year, we described Congress as an “ingrained organizational structure that seems to emphasize divisions.” Unfortunately, that description is still accurate.

The new leaders of Congress have taken steps to increase oversight of intelligence and homeland security. But the 9/11 Commission Report recommended that Congress create a single point of oversight and review for homeland security, and it has not.

Congress can have an enormous effect on how the government operates. If lawmakers were to take steps to resolve incompatibilities within their organization, they would send a powerful message to agencies that divisions cannot be tolerated.


About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.

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