Earlier this month, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform, claimed that over the past four years Congress has all but abdicated its responsibility for government oversight [op-ed, July 6]. As chairman of that committee, I think this is a good time to respond.
Today we hold our fourth hearing on the use of private contractors to support our troops and rebuilding efforts in Iraq. These hearings on how the government is spending billions of taxpayer dollars have provided the public with useful insight into how the contracting process works and have put the lie to claims that private contractors are running amok with public money. Where abuses have been found, they are being addressed by a contracting and auditing process that protects the public from waste and mismanagement. Our hearings are part and parcel of a functioning oversight process.
Beyond these hearings, and contrary to Waxman's claims, the Republican Congress has conducted substantial oversight on a wide range of issues that are important to the American people. In our committee alone (including subcommittees), we have held nearly 250 public hearings. Obviously the topics are too numerous to recite here, but a sampling demonstrates our commitment to fulfilling our constitutional responsibility: national drug control strategy; the costs, benefits and impact of federal regulations; FBI misconduct in New England; surveillance of mad cow disease; information sharing at the Department of Homeland Security; financial management at the Defense Department; new visa and passport requirements; testing and training of airline security screeners. And on and on and on.
Hearings on these issues and others help ensure that the government is carrying out the will of Congress and the people effectively and efficiently. This is not the agenda of a Congress intent on avoiding lines of question that might be uncomfortable for the administration.
What Henry Waxman is really saying is that Congress is not investigating the matters that Democrats in an election year want to investigate. For example, he wants to investigate the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA agent to columnist Robert D. Novak in connection with the mission of her husband, Joseph Wilson, to examine allegations of Iraqi efforts to obtain yellowcake uranium from Niger.
But the attorney general, to his credit, recused himself from investigating White House staff members and assigned the matter to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago. And unlike many of the investigations of the Clinton administration, in this one, nobody, including Waxman, has any reason to question whether the Justice Department, through Fitzgerald, can conduct a thorough investigation in which the public can have confidence. Moreover, the recent Senate intelligence committee report on prewar intelligence, and Britain's Butler report, have cast serious doubt on the credibility of Joseph Wilson.
Other matters are similarly under investigation by duly empowered investigative agencies. The Defense Contract Audit Agency, the Defense Department inspector general and the Justice Department are either auditing or investigating claims related to contracting in Iraq. The claim that the administration withheld the true costs of the Medicare bill passed by Congress is under investigation by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. The military and congressional committees are investigating the prison abuses in Iraq. No one has claimed that these authorities are inadequate to address these issues.
Waxman's complaints are really part of the Democrats' larger coordinated political strategy. I'm not new to politics. I understand why my committee's ranking Democrat and others feel the need to say "Halliburton" as often as humanly possible. But too many Democrats have, for partisan reasons, chosen to practice oversight by press release and by the leaking of draft reports and confidential briefings.
This is a strategy being driven by the Democratic leadership. Resolutions of inquiry have been introduced in many committees of primary jurisdiction seeking to force their members to vote on whether to investigate various matters. One letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and a similar letter to President Bush regarding Medicare cost estimates was signed by Waxman, the House and Senate Democratic leaders, and the ranking Democratic members of multiple House and Senate committees.
For proof that the Democrats' drumbeat is driven by partisan interests, one need look no further than events of this week. I don't see any Democrats calling for an investigation of former national security adviser Sandy Berger's alleged removal of classified records from the National Archives. Instead we see apologies and hypocritical allegations of leaks.
In any event, no matter how much oversight the Republican Congress does, it won't be enough for the Democrats. I suppose that is to be expected, and the voters will decide whether it is enough. But let's be sure to acknowledge the partisan political agenda for what it is.
The writer is a Republican representative from Northern Virginia and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.