Senate DPC’s Role Expands as It Begins New Decade

Sixty years ago this month, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee was established, after President Harry Truman signed the law that created it.

Since then, the DPC has researched issues, developed policy proposals, published reports on important legislation and policy issues, tracked roll call votes, provided legislative and policy support to Democratic Senate offices, and worked to promote Senate Democratic Caucus unity and cohesion.

Democratic Senators who have chaired the DPC include many of the most well-respected leaders past and present: Former Sens. Alben Barkley (Ky.), Lyndon Johnson (Texas), Mike Mansfield (Mont.), George Mitchell (Maine) and Tom Daschle (S.D.), and current Sens. Robert Byrd (W.Va.) and Harry Reid (Nev.).

In 2005, then-Minority Leader Reid and I restructured the DPC to include an oversight and investigations function, to fill the void left by a Congress that increasingly turned a blind eye toward its responsibility to conduct oversight of how the executive branch spends the money Congress authorizes and appropriates.

In the 109th Congress, as authorizing committees too often failed to hold the Bush administration accountable, the DPC held 22 of its own oversight hearings. Those hearings exposed massive waste, fraud and abuse by contractors operating in Iraq. They revealed that Halliburton had allowed U.S. troops to bathe in, and brush their teeth with, water contaminated with E. coli bacteria, and that Parsons Corp. had been paid millions to build health clinics, many of which, according to the Iraqi health minister, turned out to be “imaginary” health clinics.

DPC hearings revealed that Halliburton employees dumped 50,000 pounds of nails in the desert because they ordered the wrong size, double-charged taxpayers $617,000 for soda and torched new trucks on the side of the road because they didn’t have the right wrench to change a tire. Cost-plus contracts meant cost was the last thing to be considered and, based on its oversight inaction, the previous Congress seems to have agreed.

The DPC also held the first public hearing on the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq, with testimony from CIA and State Department officials whom the administration had asked to make the case for war. Likewise, when Republicans chose not to ask retired generals who had served in Iraq to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, those officers testified before the DPC.

The DPC also was assigned the tasks of developing cutting-edge policy ideas through development of a “New Idea Network” with concerned citizens, state and local government officials, think tanks, academics and policy experts around the country.

As we begin our 61st year, the mission of the Senate DPC is changing and expanding again.

The DPC will provide support for Senate Democratic committee oversight, work to coordinate and share information and resources for oversight work and publish reports about the ongoing oversight work of the Senate. We also will hold select hearings on issues that our committee chairmen agree we should address.

Reid also has asked us to organize a series of bipartisan summits in Washington, D.C., and around the country to discuss pressing national challenges such as globalization, poverty in America and the exercise of American power.

As they were for our oversight hearings in the 109th Congress, Republican lawmakers will be invited to participate in these summits. Our goal is to gather the best experts, the best information and the advice of the public to find solutions to pressing problems, not hunt for political opportunities and politically driven “gotcha” moments.

The Senate DPC has a long and rich history of service to the Senate. That’s a tradition we intend to continue as we begin its seventh decade.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.) is chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.