Freshman from Utah is making a name for himself

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2010; 6:42 AM

In Congress, an institution where seniority has its privileges, Jason Chaffetz is a freshman on the move.

The conservative Utah Republican is the rare congressman who is the ranking member of a subcommittee. He is the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform panel on the federal workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the District.

A favorite of the right, Chaffetz has been given the spotlight by the Republican leadership. Ambitious, witty, telegenic and with a degree in communications, he knows how to not only work the media, but he also regularly produces YouTube "cotside chats," named after the office cot he sleeps on in his Capitol Hill office.

Chaffetz is a bit more candid than most politicians about his ambitions, and he admits he has his eye on the Senate seat occupied by Utah Republican Orrin G. Hatch.

"I see no point or reason to take my hat out of that arena," he said.

Although postal unions have contributed to his campaign, his positions repulse many federal workers and D.C. residents.

If he wins his reelection bid and the Republicans win the House next week, Chaffetz probably would become a subcommittee chairman in just his second term.

Although it's not certain he would take over the panel that deals with federal workers and the District, the Federal Diary spoke with him Wednesday about those issues.

This is an edited transcript of that interview:

Diary: You advocate for limited federal government. Does that also mean you favor cutting the federal workforce?

Chaffetz: I believe we're paying too many people too much money. There are a lot of very good, decent, hardworking federal workers. They're doing the right thing, and they shouldn't be demonized in this process. But I think to effectively manage the federal government, we're going to have to fundamentally figure out how to do more with less.

Diary: How much do you think the workforce should be cut?

Chaffetz: The Republicans as a body take the position that there should be a hiring freeze. If I could unilaterally do it myself, I would demand that we cut it by 10 percent.

That doesn't mean that every worker would get a 10 percent pay cut. It doesn't mean every agency and department would have 10 percent fewer workers. Through consolidation and attrition and just being smart, you have to figure out how to get there.

Diary: Do you want to see a cut in pay for federal employees?

Chaffetz: I want to look at the overall gross number. Payroll and compensation is roughly $447 billion. [Note: That includes Postal Service workers, who are not paid by tax dollars, and the military.] I think we're going to have to somehow figure out how to survive on just $400 billion. I fundamentally believe our federal government is doing too many things. I think many of these things ought to be done by the states, not by the federal government.

Diary: What would be your priorities if you do become chairman over the federal workforce and the federal workplace?

Chaffetz: One of the items I see out there is a postal reform bill that Congressman [Darrell] Issa (R-Calif.) and I have been working on. I think other departments and agencies need to learn and see what the post office has been doing. They have been cutting costs. They have reduced the size of the personnel. They are about the only department or agency that I can point to that tries to be responsible. But still, they need a reform package.

Diary: What will be the elements of that reform bill?

Chaffetz: We haven't solidified it, but we're going to have to reduce the number of the physical facilities at the Postal Service. They have roughly 300 distribution centers. We draw that down to about 150. We have tens of thousands of post offices. We would be cutting those back dramatically. We have something like 11,000 one-man post offices. I don't know if you can justify that.

Diary: You oppose the delegate from the District having a full vote in the House because the Constitution talks about power going to the "the several states." Isn't there an inconsistency? The District is treated as a state in many ways that apparently nobody finds objectionable, but when it comes to a vote, it has to be a state.

Chaffetz: I think they are somewhat inconsistent. I support a plan that would take the residential areas and retrocede them back into potentially the state of Maryland. If they want full representation, I don't want to give just a member of Congress. Let's give two senators, a governor and a state legislature, as well.

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