So far, Darrell Issa isn’t the boogeyman Democrats expected.
While the Oversight and Government Reform chairman has been trying to put the Obama administration on the defensive, much of the panel’s investigative agenda has been focused on mundane bureaucratic policies and holding hearings on issues other committees already addressed.
The more methodical approach is a switch for the characteristically rhapsodic, press-loving California Republican, who announced an aggressive agenda upon taking the gavel in January. At the time, Issa said he would lead six major investigations during the first three months of his tenure.
Several Congressional aides and K Streeters who interact with the panel said Issa has gotten off to a slower start than expected for a former ranking member who already knows the committee’s headline-grabbing terrain.
“There certainly has been a significant drop-off in investigative activity focused outside the Obama administration,” Covington & Burling lawyer Rob Kelner said. “Some of that is typical where there is a Republican Congress and a Democratic president. Even so, it’s been a pretty quiet time for members of the Congressional investigation bar with respect to the Oversight Committee.”
Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said the chairman can’t control the outside world’s expectations.
Hill described Issa as taking an “aggressive approach in many ways equal to or surpassing the previous two Congresses in the size of the agenda.”
Rep. Patrick McHenry, a member of the Oversight panel, said Issa is doing a good job and that doing investigative work requires patience.
“It takes time to get documents,” the North Carolina Republican said. “I think we’ve had solid hearings, but you know, it’s going to be a thoughtful approach. It’s going to be serious policy.”
So far, the panel has held 54 hearings on everything from presidential records to foreclosures to Freedom of Information Act compliance.
Hill pointed to Issa’s continuing examination of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious as an example of the important work the committee is doing. The ATF allowed American guns to be smuggled into Mexico during the two operations. ATF officials then tried to track where the illegal weapons were used in crimes.
Issa also has used his position to embarrass the Obama administration at times, pointing to its refusal to release documents as inconsistent with its pledges for transparency.
At the same time, even his detractors note that the focus on the country’s dire economy and ongoing debt limit negotiations have made it difficult to attract attention to the issues before the Oversight panel.
Still, it isn’t only circumstances that have led to the committee’s lower profile.