Last week, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Darrell Issa, held a hearing entitled “Where Are All the Watchdogs? Addressing Inspector General Vacancies.” The purpose of the hearing was supposed to be why there are so many vacant Inspector General positions (the Presidentially appointed, Senate confirmed ones anyway). The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has a handy-dandy chart to illustrate the problem here.
We at Who is the IG? popped some popcorn and settled in to watch what we were hoping would be an adult conversation about an important subject. What were we thinking, this is Congress! Government Executive had a great article titled “IG vacancies hearing devolves into political maneuvering” and that pretty much sums it up. While we watched the drama unfold, we laughed, we cried, and there were moments when we wanted to throw something at the screen. What follows in this week’s Who is the IG? post is our top three “Really?!” moments from the hearing. If you’re not familiar with “Really?!” moments, click here.
All cites to the minutes during the video are based on the video at C-SPAN here.
“Really?!” Moment #3 “The purpose of this hearing is…”
Silly us, when we saw that the purpose of the hearing was to discuss IG vacancies and then when Issa’s opening remarks are “This is a hearing in which we are not talking about any particular problem that’s occurred in the recent or not recent past,” we believed him. Well, we were in for a wide variety of topics with only a small amount of the time dedicated to discussing vacancies. From why Congress is the last to know (28:00) to the DATA Act (1:37:00) to USAID’s new slogan “Forward” (1:55:00) to the GSA scandal (1:00:00, 1:34:00, 2:00:00, etc), it seemed that the honorable members wanted to discuss everything but IG vacancies. Really?! Congress, if you’re not going to stick to the program why bother setting one to begin with? Really?! Seriously, you guys know you have trouble focusing on the topic at hand, especially when there are cameras around. You should just have titled the hearing “Potpourri” a la Jeopardy and covered whatever you wanted.
“Really?!” Moment #2 “I’m on a roll”
One of the better moments of the whole hearing came towards the very end. You’ll notice that the hearing room is almost vacant with just two or three members present for the second panel containing Danny Werfel, the Controller for OMB. Congressman John Mica has taken over the Chairmanship and is lecturing Werfel about how Congress ‘can’t get no respect’ and the White House is getting all the good info. At one point, Congressman Gerry Connolly interrupts Mica to ask “Will the gentleman yield?” and reminds him that they are on a strict 5 minute limit. Mica’s response “No, not right now, I’m on a roll.” (2:07:00) Really?! Congressman Mica, Really?! You’re on a roll? Really?! You do know that you are not even talking about the IG vacancies and people are watching you live on TV? Really!? Really, we know that a lot has been said recently about the lack of civility and discourse and you guys are the “lower house” but do you really need to be snippy-pants about it? Really!?
“Really?!”Moment #1 “We always welcome legislation.”
One of the first things you learn when you work in the Executive Branch is that you never, ever want more instruction from Congress than necessary. A legislative fix is always the worst case scenario and you always do your best to informally work with Congress to get them the information they want or execute the pet project they are requesting. Apparently Phyllis Fong, the IG at the Department of Agriculture and the Chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) has never learned that lesson.
At one point in the hearing (start around 31:00 to get context) Issa asked the panel about requirements in the IG Act to keep Congress informed. Basically, he is upset because he thinks that the White House is getting more information than Congress about what is going wrong in agencies and he’s blaming the IGs for not reporting to Congress earlier. Issa says that anything which triggers reporting to the agency head should also trigger reporting to Congress. He follows up with an not-so-subtle ‘Would it help if the ranking member and I made it clear that we want the information, or do you need new legislative language, which is always our back up’ statement to which Phyllis responds, “we always welcome legislation.” Issa replies with a cautionary tone, “No, you don’t.”
Really, Phyllis?! Really?! You want more legislation, more one-size-fits-all, overreacting, mind numbingly detailed legislation telling you how and when to do your job? Really?! When we heard that response to Issa we almost lost confidence in the IG community as a whole but we know that not everyone agrees with the ‘more legislation please’ philosophy and we should give Phyllis a break. Maybe she got flustered? Maybe she got confused? But, really, how confused or flustered to you have to be to ask for more legislation?
All in all, the hearing was entertaining but a bit disappointing. It did bring a little more attention to the Inspectors General but doesn’t appear that this hearing made a difference with the IG vacancies. But, Really?!, did we expect it to?