Congress

House Oversight to tackle IT and workforce, but probably not Trump's potential conflicts

Shutterstock image. Copyright Mikhail Kolesnikov.  

The Oversight and Government Reform committee on Jan. 31 approved a work plan for the 115th Congress.   The plan, required under House Rules, shows the panel intends to craft legislation dealing with high-level federal IT issues, including reauthorizing expiring programs under the 2002 E-Government Act and some aspects of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act that are due to expire in the coming years.

Democratic members of the committee complained that the committee has no plans to probe possible conflicts of interest posed by President Donald Trump's business interests, or any possible violations of the terms of the lease agreement between the General Services Administration and the Trump Organization to operate a luxury hotel in the federally owned Old Post Office building.

According to the oversight plan, the GSA's E-Government Fund, a program at the Office of Management and Budget to oversee governmentwide information security, and the OMB's own E-Gov office could see a legislative rewrite.

The federal date center consolidation initiative in the 2014 FITARA legislation is due to expire at the end of fiscal year 2018, and the committee is planning a new look at that program. The IT portfolio review in FITARA expires in December 2019, and that too will get a second look.

The panel will also consider a reauthorization of the Office of Government Ethics, which has been operating under a lapsed authorization since 2007.

Walter M. Shaub Jr., the current OGE director, criticized then-President-elect Trump for his plan to let his sons manage his assets rather than divest from his business empire.

"I don't think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be president of the United States of America," Shaub said in a Jan. 11 appearance at the Brookings Institute.

Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) then summoned Shaub for a closed-door meeting, to discuss Shaub's public comments and a series of post-election tweets that urged Trump to divest his holdings.

Democrats led by Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sought to amend the work plan to cover potential conflicts of interest by inserting a section into the oversight plan called "President's Global Business Dealings," but this was defeated by committee Republicans.

The plan also doesn't cover the Old Post Office lease, although that matter is squarely in the committee's jurisdiction. Cummings has been trying to raise the profile of this issue since December.

"This Oversight Plan omits any reference to reviewing the President’s lease with GSA for his hotel here in Washington, D.C, even though he has violated its terms and is now in breach. We asked the Chairman to include this, but he declined," Cummings said in a statement.

Oversight's work plan also includes "a comprehensive review of the civil service system reform." The plan includes a review of the General Service pay scale, ways to streamline hiring by leveraging technology, and examining "skills gaps, accountability and removal processes, labor management and reform of the Senior Executive Service."

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) sought to amend the workforce section with language pledging to protect "the key foundations of the U.S. civil service: its independence from partisan politics and its professionalism."

Lynch said, "Regrettably, these first two weeks of the Trump administration have evidenced that the unwavering dedication and patriotism of our federal workforce continues to be met with efforts to undermine the federal civil service and deprive federal workers of key constitutional and workplace protections."

That amendment also was voted down. Chaffetz explained his objection by outlining plans for new legislation covering the federal civil service.

"I worry that by adopting this paragraph we will give a sense that the status quo is acceptable," Chaffetz said.

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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