Congress

Passing the gavels on Capitol Hill

The GOP takeover of the Senate means that committee leadership is shifting to Republicans. For the federal IT community, the panel to watch is the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), which has broad authority over agencies that drive IT policy, such as the Office of Management and Budget.

Longtime ranking member Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) -- the irascible spending hawk known for his annual Wastebook documenting what he sees as particularly outlandish examples of federal spending -- is retiring. That means Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is in line to inherit the chairman's gavel. He has been an active participant in hearings on federal IT and government management and often draws on his training as an accountant and his experience running a family-owned company to urge federal officials to run government more like a business.

The committee has also been the home base for proposals for cybersecurity legislation. Johnson is on record as opposing top-down regulatory approaches and is suspicious of putting the Department of Homeland Security in charge of civilian cybersecurity. "The federal bureaucracy simply cannot keep pace with technology," he wrote in a 2012 op-ed.

Agencies could see more investigations from a Johnson-led HSGAC, but the senator has also pledged to work with Democrats. "I'm not interested in show trials," he told a hometown newspaper. "What I'm interested in is defining problems."

Other changes at HSGAC are also in store. If Johnson moves up to the top slot, his leadership of the Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee would end. That chairmanship could fall to Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) or Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Democrats on the committee are going to have to replenish their ranks. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is retiring, Sen. Mark Pryor was voted out of his Arkansas seat, Sen. Mark Begich appears to have lost in Alaska, although he is holding out for a count of absentee ballots, and Sen. Mary Landrieu is headed for a runoff in Louisiana in which she appear extremely vulnerable. Other Democrats on the committee could be in line for more plum assignments as retiring and defeated colleagues depart the Senate.

On the House side, Republicans extended their advantage, but leadership on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is set to change anyway because the GOP caucus has term limits that prevent Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) from seeking another turn as chairman.

That race will be decided by the House Republican Steering Committee after the 114th Congress convenes in January, and the dynamics haven't changed much since jockeying for pole position began in early 2014. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) has the most seniority, but that might not matter much if the Republican leaders seek a media-savvy candidate for the highly visible post. The House oversight committee has long served as a launching pad for investigations into administration activity, which is sure to be a growth industry in the final two years of the Obama presidency.

The gavel could go to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who has been active on the Benghazi investigation and probes into the politicization of the Internal Revenue Service. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has also thrown his hat into the ring, although he has a murky history with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Jordan was floated as a candidate to replace Boehner by a few hard-line conservatives in 2013, although Jordan himself voted for Boehner.

He has been generous with the party, however, donating $445,000 to elect Republicans this cycle, according to a recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. That's more than Chaffetz or Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), another candidate for the committee's chairmanship. Turner, the most politically moderate of the four candidates, has pledged to cooperate with Democrats on the committee and work with other committees that share jurisdiction and interest in oversight issues.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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