The committee has oversight over almost everything federal. President Trump’s actions and policies are central on Cummings’s agenda. That includes those affecting the federal workforce, which Cummings strongly, sometimes emotionally, supports. Speaking of federal employees, three current and former top Trump advisers will face Cummings’s scrutiny because of questions about their security clearances: national security adviser John Bolton, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House staff secretary Rob Porter.
Cummings discussed his priorities in this edited exchange. Unfortunately, the email format and time constraints did not allow follow-up questions.
Federal Insider: As the likely chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the next Congress, how would you balance investigative priorities with legislative priorities?
Cummings: Unfortunately, over the past eight years, Republicans in Congress have used their investigations primarily to cause conflict and generate headlines for partisan attacks, with little to show in terms of accomplishments. I want to change that. I want to conduct investigations to inform public policy. Those two things should be linked. I want my investigations to result in concrete reforms that may include legislation to improve the functioning of government and the lives of all Americans.
What are your top investigative priorities?
I see my role as having two lanes. The first is fighting for the soul of our democracy. I want to examine actions taken by the Trump administration that go against the mandates of our Founding Fathers in the Constitution. In the second lane, we need to look at issues that affect people on a day-to-day basis, like the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs, access to affordable health care, exercising the right to vote, reforming the postal system, and executing a nonpartisan census as required by the Constitution.
Will the committee issue the 64 subpoenas, recommended by Democrats and denied by Oversight Committee Republicans during Trump’s presidency? Which of the 64 have priority?
No. The federal agencies we have been dealing with have informed us that they will respond to letters sent from a Committee chairman, so we will start with those, and we expect full cooperation.
What are your top legislative priorities?
Some of our top legislative priorities are to provide the government with authority to negotiate directly for drug prices, reform the Postal Service to place it on a more sustainable financial footing, provide additional treatment and funding for people affected by the opioid epidemic, and protect federal employees and whistleblowers who are retaliated against for reporting waste, fraud and abuse.
Your post-election statement said, “I want to probe senior Administration officials across the government who have abused their positions of power and wasted taxpayer money, as well as President Trump’s decisions to act in his own financial self-interest rather than the best interests of the American people.” Which officials and what abuses of power do you plan to probe?
One of our top investigative priorities will be the security clearance process and ensuring proper vetting for individuals with access to our nation’s top secrets. That will include specific security clearance cases, including Michael Flynn, Rob Porter and John Bolton, but will also include systemic issues with the security clearance process.
We will also examine the Trump administration’s troubling pattern of political attacks on government watchdogs, ethics experts, law enforcement officials and career government employees. We will also examine the Trump administration’s inhumane policy of separating children from their parents at the border, which represents a dangerous approach that will break up families, incite fear and threaten the public safety of our communities. We will investigate the president’s unprecedented financial conflicts of interest and potential violations of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Regarding federal employees, do you expect your committee and the House to approve legislation that would undo the May 25 executive orders undermining federal unions? Key elements of the orders currently are blocked by a federal district court order that is being appealed by the administration.
I filed a brief in that litigation because I believe that the executive orders violate existing law, and I expect we will make every effort to protect the professional, nonpartisan civil service and the due process and collective bargaining rights that are its foundation.
Do you expect any action on civil service reform? If so, what?
We are looking at ways to improve and modernize the federal civil service laws, and we will ensure that the due-process rights of federal workers are protected. In addition, we recognize that some employees may need training or retraining in order to maintain their jobs and have career stability.
Do you expect OGR and the House to approve the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates (FAIR) Act, which would provide a 3 percent raise for federal employees?
A 3 percent pay raise is the least we can do to help our public servants make up for lost wages due to years of pay freezes and minimal increases that do not match the rate of inflation.
Do you expect approval of any other action on federal compensation — for example, pay raise parity with the military or any action on federal retirement or benefits?
We would like to reverse the pension cuts for federal employees hired in 2013 and after and will work to return federal civilian employees to pay parity with military members.
In light of the ouster of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, what role, if any, does OGR have in ensuring the integrity of the Mueller investigation?
Congress must investigate the real reason for AG Sessions’s termination, confirm that acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker is recused from all aspects of the special counsel’s probe, and ensure that the Department of Justice safeguards the integrity of the Mueller investigation.