House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (right) and ranking member Norm Dicks (left) have been trying to make sure the Surveys and Investigations work group continues to provide the committee with oversight information on a bipartisan basis.
Since taking the gavel in January, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) has dramatically reformed a little-known but powerful team of senior staff, outside investigators and other individuals who form the core of the panel's oversight activities.
Known simply as Surveys and Investigations, the unofficial team produces nothing in the way of public documents, is not listed on the committee's own website and is holed up in the largely forgotten Ford House Office Building, far from the committee's main offices in the Capitol.
But despite a low public profile, the team's influence on the appropriations process cannot be overstated — S&I reports to Rogers, ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) and the subcommittee chairmen and ranking members, and their work product more often than not becomes the backbone of the yearly appropriations process.
According to aides and others familiar with the panel, under Rogers' watch, S&I has become more streamlined, reducing its costs and reliance on outside contractors significantly while at the same time doubling its workload over last year.
Rogers also brought in former Housing and Urban Development budget chief David Gibbons to head up the team and has significantly increased the use of detailees from the executive branch as investigators, drawing on their knowledge of the individual budgets in identifying areas for cuts.
"We're doing a lot more with less," Rogers spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said.
According to Hing, Rogers has increased full-time investigators on the S&I staff from six and will have 14 total by the end of the year.
Under Rogers, S&I is on pace to conduct 30 investigations and surveys this year, up from 14 last year.
But those reforms have come at a cost.
Between March and June 2010, the committee spent $912,000 on 50 contract consultants. Those consultants hail from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from former agency budget officials to former investigators for the FBI.
But after taking control of the committee, Rogers slashed the S&I contractor budget, reducing it by $579,000 and cutting 30 contractors during that same period, according to a Roll Call analysis of Congressional disbursement forms.
Part of the impetus for those cuts was the across-the-board belt tightening that Congress has undergone this year.
Additionally, S&I staffing needs "had not been reviewed in a while," Hing said, adding that Rogers felt it was time to "implement some reforms."
But critics insist the reductions in staffing have hurt the committee's ability to conduct proper oversight.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.