Buzz of the Week

Setting the agenda

When the leadership of both houses of Congress shifted in November 2006, things clearly were going to change. Many observers predicted that there would be greater oversight — and more hearings.

That has certainly come true. Soon after the new Congress took power, former House Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) became ranking member of the newly named Oversight and Government Reform Committee, now led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Davis and Waxman have traditionally had a cordial relationship. But insiders say there is a growing rift in the committee. Waxman has had some high-profile hearings, including the grilling of Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration.

Frustration is growing among some Republican lawmakers that the hearings are focusing on issues that make for good headlines and fodder for elections, but that the committee isn’t reforming the way agencies do business. Some of those frustrations surfaced during the Doan hearing. Davis sought to focus the questions on what he considered pertinent issues.

So there was some intrigue last week when Davis sent a letter to Waxman expressing concern that critical information-sharing challenges, such as those exposed by a new report from the Government Accountability Office, are not receiving the attention they warrant from Congress.

The GAO report found that the Justice and Homeland Security departments have spent $900 million on information-sharing networks but still do not have effective networks in place.

“More troubling, the report indicates DHS officials did not effectively collaborate and coordinate with state and local efforts…and may have rushed a duplicative and underutilized system into service,” Davis wrote.

Davis must be frustrated about playing a back-bencher, and he must feel dissatisfied about no longer being able to set the agenda. Waxman probably felt the same way during his tenure as second fiddle.

Waxman has made it clear that he will increase oversight, which he said was lax. And to a large degree, he gets to set the agenda.

Elections certainly do matter.

The Buzz contenders

#2: Showdown at GAO
All eyes are on the Government Accountability Office as it faces its next big hurdle on the challenging course called civil service reform by some and employee bashing by others.

GAO, which many consider to be one of the best places to work in the federal government, is preparing for an election to decide whether a union will represent GAO analysts. The series of events leading to that historic vote — the first in the agency’s 86-year-history — began with a 2004 study of market-based compensation that Watson Wyatt conducted at the request of Comptroller General David Walker, GAO’s top official.

The compensation experts found that the well-regarded analysts at GAO are also well-compensated. Contrary to popular wisdom, some federal workers, such as those at GAO, are paid more than comparable employees working in the private sector. That discovery led Walker to freeze the salaries of analysts whom GAO was paying at higher than market rates, and discontent ensued.

#3: SAP that provision
President Bush has threatened to veto the Homeland Security Department authorization bill because he doesn’t like certain provisions in the legislation, such as one that would prevent DHS managers from claiming that national security trumps union bargaining rights.

But there’s more not to like. Using its favored form of communication — the Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) — the Bush administration also chided lawmakers for including a provision in the bill that would require the government to review a contractor’s past performance on other contracts before it could make an award to that contractor.

The SAP states that such reviews would be expensive and irrelevant to the work to be performed.

#4: ERA now!
No, it’s not the Equal Rights Amendment people are shouting about. It’s the National Archives and Records Administration’s Electronic Records Archive. “Let’s get going already” was the reaction from one person listening to Archivist Allen Weinstein’s update on ERA last week.

ERA’s initial implementation at four agencies is scheduled for September, and the patience of agency records managers is wearing thin. They’re tired of storing paper copies of records, and they’re being flooded with audio, video and geographic information systems data. However, they couldn’t hide their excitement last week about two new, state-of-the-art vaults that NARA got for storing paper records.

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