Congress begins to look beyond the budget
- By Richard E. Cohen
- Jan 10, 2013
As a new Congress starts a new year, is there a new imperative to find common ground?
After a largely unproductive two years, congressional leaders are looking for a fresh start on government management issues.
Given President Barack Obama’s re-election and the fact that the 113th Congress took office on Jan. 3 with the same partisan mix as its predecessor, there is less incentive to continue delaying timely but contentious issues and more of an imperative to find common ground.
In addition, new chairmen are running several key congressional committees. They include Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
Despite the ongoing budget standoffs, those changes could combine to improve prospects for action on a range of vital issues.
Those three committees and several others plan a quick start on a host of efforts to counter ominous cybersecurity threats. The House passed several limited measures in 2012, but a more sweeping Senate counterpart was stymied by procedural deadlocks and the sponsors’ failure to garner the 60 votes required to break a filibuster.
“Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce last year had strong concerns about an increased federal role and new regulations by the Homeland Security Department,” said a senior Democratic aide. “They wanted to wait until the election results” to see if they could gain more leverage.
Obama’s re-election and Democrats’ strengthened control of the Senate will likely increase their ability to find common ground on cybersecurity protections for government and businesses. In light of the strong possibility that Obama will soon issue an executive order to increase the federal government’s role in cybersecurity, key lawmakers were planning to fill in some of the details, including the steps required to secure federal IT systems.
“I still believe that legislation offers the best long-term solution to address the cyber threats we face,” Carper told FCW. “Our nation cannot afford more delay on this issue, and I am committed to working together to reach a solution as soon as possible.”
In the GOP-controlled House, McCaul has listed cybersecurity legislation as a top priority for the Homeland Security Committee. He has long-standing relationships with the industry nationally and locally through prominent high-tech companies in his home district.
McCaul “thinks it is necessary to partner with stakeholders, including companies that control critical infrastructure, to determine the best policy for threat information sharing,” a McCaul spokesman said. Privacy and transparency
Protection of individual privacy is another piece of the cybersecurity puzzle and one that could also shape agencies' efforts to engage with citizens online. At the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte has been a leading supporter of proposals to require a warrant before the government can use tracking devices to monitor a person’s activities. He has also backed protecting individual rights for Internet use and has called for updates this year to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
Agency executives’ privacy could be on the agenda as well. Many have voiced concerns about the financial disclosure requirements in the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012. House and Senate committee aides said they are awaiting a report from the National Academy of Public Administration, which is scheduled to release its findings and recommendations in March on a range of issues related to transparency and security.
Agency management and fraud prevention
Carper is expected to pay close attention to fraud and waste in government spending. During his career, he has led multiple legislative efforts to monitor overpayments by agencies and has worked with the Government Accountability Office and agency inspectors general to identify opportunities to save money, especially with regard to defense contractors and health care providers. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, his work on waste in Medicare and Medicaid could dovetail with lawmakers’ efforts to control entitlement spending and oversee the implementation of systems called for under the Affordable Care Act.
If Obama nominates a new director of the Office of Management and Budget — Jeffrey Zients has held the position on an acting basis since January 2012 — the Senate confirmation process could give Carper an early opportunity to explore a wide array of government management issues. Spokeswoman Emily Spain said the new chairman is especially interested in challenges facing the federal workforce, including the growing wave of retirements.
Procurement and IT reform
Reform of federal procurement practices is expected to be high on Congress’ agenda as well. In late 2012, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, released a draft of his far-reaching proposal to streamline federal IT. Aides said Issa plans to move on the legislation, which has attracted bipartisan support, early this year.
Carper has worked across the aisle in the Senate on related legislation that is designed to cut billions of dollars in IT spending. “For too long, the federal government has wasted taxpayer dollars by pouring money into unnecessary information technology infrastructure,” he said.
Richard E. Cohen, an FCW contributing writer, has covered Capitol Hill for more than three decades and is the author of several books on Congress.