Issa plans to crack down on government spending

By Amanda Becker
Monday, December 13, 2010

California Republican Darrell Issa has made no secret that come January there is a new sheriff in town.

The incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has promised to conduct a blitz of investigations into government waste, publicly urging his subcommittees to hold two hearings a week for 40 weeks in the new year and promoting legislation that would extend the authority of federal agency watchdogs to ferret out fraud.

Though the frequency of hearings was meant to be "illustrative and not literal," according to an Issa spokesman, the sheer scope of the congressman's plan, crafted as part of larger Republican agenda to target government spending, has area lawyers gearing up.

"If there's a hearing a day, there are subpoenas. Whenever there are subpoenas, there are people needing representation close behind," said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, who is leaving the watchdog group in January to join lawyer, lobbyist and media fixture Lanny J. Davis at his namesake firm, Lanny J. Davis & Associates.

Davis, spokesman and attorney to Bill Clinton during the former president's impeachment proceedings and the investigations into his finances, said he brought on Sloan to "clone himself" in preparation for the stepped up oversight. Attorneys who can "get out of the courtroom and talk to reporters directly" are going to be in demand as the probes grow more frequent, said Davis, who has formed the Davis-Block consultancy with media guru Joshua S. Block to help deal with the crush.

Other area firms -- Patton Boggs; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and McDermott Will & Emery, to name three -- are positioned to deploy key practice groups at the intersection of government investigations, politics and media. The local offices of firms with ties to current and former members of President Obama's legal team, including Perkins Coie; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; and Zuckerman Spaeder, are also likely to be tapped should administration staffers require representation.

Issa has said that his investigation style will be his own, indicating he will neither pursue the sort of scandal-centric examinations pioneered by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) in the 1990s when he sought to look into Clinton's personal life or the approach of the current committee chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), who Issa says ignored his requests for oversight hearings into food safety, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and stimulus money going to the National Endowment for the Arts.

In a speech before a group of Pennsylvania Republicans this fall, Issa promised he would not have "corporate America live in fear that we're going to subpoena everything. I will use it to get the very information that today the White House is either shredding or not producing."

Indeed, Environmental Protection Agency head Lisa P. Jackson "is going to have her own parking spot up at the Rayburn" building, according to the incoming Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Rep. Fred Upton ((R-Mich.).


But that doesn't mean the private sector is off the hook. Issa has pledged to focus on what he calls waste within targeted government agencies, which could affect the contractors associated with those agencies.

"They're going to take aggressive looks at administration policies, procedures and programs," said Venable's Raymond V. Shepherd III, himself a former counsel to the Senate's chief investigations committee. "To the extent these implicate private entities, you're going to find the private sector involved."

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