Examiner Editorial: Oversight means better (and less) government

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, is set to become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee if   Republicans regain the majority in the House of Representatives, which many polls suggest is a solid possibility.

It’s not one of the glory committees, but it is potentially among the most powerful and important because it can investigate any federal program. This makes service on the committee an opportunity for even the most humble representative to help combat the waste, fraud and abuse that inevitably comes with ever-expanding government. Issa told CNN this week that he would support legislation to give subpoena power to all of the 74 inspectors general in the executive branch. “We need the IGs to get answers,” he said. “I don’t need to be looking at every failure of government, I need to be looking at where failure of government needs reform. You bring it back to Congress and we fix it.” Issa is exactly right.

Nervous Democrats and the liberal mainstream media have been sounding alarms for months about the prospect of a tough Republican like Issa at the helm of the committee, pointing to the chimera of new investigations of the White House reminiscent of those in the Clinton years.  But enabling inspectors general — who are appointed by the president but report to Congress — to issue subpoenas would reduce political grandstanding and add teeth to investigations that would otherwise be derailed by evasive agency officials. In fact, the one IG presently with subpoena power (for the Department of Defense) rarely uses it. The threat, on the other hand, can be a powerful tool to encourage people to be more forthcoming with information.

The Examiner inquired whether the conservative House Republican Study Committee would support Issa’s proposal, but while supportive, a spokesman seemed unfamiliar with it. This is a worrisome sign House GOPers still aren’t thinking seriously about oversight.

Congressional subpoenas and public hearings are the “ultimate weapons” given to Congress by the Constitution, because the Founders knew ambitious politicians and compliant bureaucrats in the executive branch should know they are being watched closely and continually. Special Treasury Department IG Neil Barofsky was the key reason the public learned of the abuses in the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). We know, for instance, that the Obama administration acted too quickly in forcing the closure of General Motors and Chrysler dealerships, “thereby adding tens of thousands of workers to the already lengthy unemployment rolls.” An IG like  Barofsky would be even more effective if given subpoena power. Regardless of the election outcome, Issa’s proposal should be adopted.

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