We hope the new Democratic leaders will carry out the effective oversight tradition exemplified by Reps. Davis' and Waxman's leadership of the House Government Reform Committee.
Elections have consequences. Few people appreciate that more than government workers and contractors. And the midterm elections last week will have consequences.
Some of them are obvious. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who has led the House Government Reform Committee, will relinquish that mantle — most likely to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking minority member. And other committees involved in overseeing and budgeting IT programs will change hands.
Lawmakers, of course, pay careful attention to the polls. One of the issues that is on voters’ minds — and therefore lawmakers’, too — is corruption. Almost three out of four voters said corruption and scandals in government were extremely or very important, according to exit poll data. Only 6 percent said it was not important at all.
In most instances, voters were probably thinking about high-profile cases such as Jack Abramoff and former Reps. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio). But people were also concerned about contracting problems during Hurricane Katrina relief operations, and some voters may have even heard about David Safavian and his arrest.
Given those cases, it would be easy to extrapolate that government is rife with corruption and needs a good cleaning. Those problems are indeed disturbing. But people must also remember what is working well.
Davis’ leadership on the Government Reform Committee has been stellar. He has been a strong independent voice with a keen eye on making government operate better. And he has a deep understanding of information technology and procurement.
We hope and believe that Waxman will keep the focus on giving agencies the tools they need to operate better, faster and more efficiently. One area ripe for improvement is the budget process. If Democratic leaders want to improve efficiency governmentwide, they need to first revamp congressional budget oversight.
Any lasting changes will require cooperation. Waxman and Davis can set the example for how the rest of the Congress should behave. We believe there are opportunities, and we look forward to hearing the new leadership’s thoughts on how to improve the business of government.