A road map for oversight to come

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The House of Representatives has detailed committees' planned reviews and investigations of the executive branch this Congress.

House Republicans have released a compilation of their committees' plans to review executive branch operations during the current session of Congress. Much of the 244-page report, which seeks to oversee the oversight, is legislative boilerplate of conventional inquiries. But the report also offers a useful insider look at some lawmakers' planned investigations and assertion of committee prerogatives.

IT, for example, appears prominently in the oversight plans of several House committees. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee said it is "critically important" to control federal contract spending, including "exorbitant" costs for support services and IT systems.

Other committees issued more targeted plans. At the Homeland Security Committee, new Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said the panel "will review the [Homeland Security] Department's efforts to address information technology challenges, including the management and integration of the department's IT systems."

The Armed Services Committee's plan underscored budget pressures, including deep cuts from sequestration, and said the panel will continue to review the Pentagon's IT spending "to reduce unwarranted duplication and eliminate programs of little value to the warfighter." And the Science and Technology Committee complained about continuing security threats to IT systems while previous oversight recommendations have gone unaddressed.

Other committees used this year's report to emphasize their legislative interests. Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee described plans for multiple hearings with Obama administration officials to discuss tax reform, which is that panel's chief priority in the new Congress. The committee also intends to explore the delivery of health services, reimbursement under Medicare and job requirements for welfare recipients.

Plans for the Appropriations Committee were far less specific. The panel did little more than list House rules and generic oversight responsibilities and stated its strong commitment to "stringent and comprehensive oversight of federal discretionary spending to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being invested wisely and prudently on behalf of the American people."

Because of "the nation's financial crisis, Congress must go further in exercising oversight than ever before," according to the committee. It used virtually identical language in its report two years ago.

The Agriculture Committee listed more than 100 topics that it plans to review, including the definition of "rural" under rural development programs and the Food and Drug Administration's recent egg safety rule. As did other House panels, members of the Financial Services Committee said they "will consult, as appropriate, with other committees of the House that may share jurisdiction" on issues that they plan to investigate.

The committee reports, which were compiled and issued by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee on March 25, are required by a rule the House adopted in 1971 that sought to make committees more responsive to House members and leaders.

The Senate has no companion set of committee reports. With Democrats in control of that chamber, its oversight of the administration would likely be more limited than the House's in any case.

About the Author

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.

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