Several committees are struggling to do more with less funding after the House approved a resolution in January cutting every committee budget by 5 percent.
Many chairmen and ranking members complained to the House Administration Committee on Tuesday of being understaffed and overworked. The panel was holding its first day of a marathon hearing examining budget requests for the 112th Congress.
Though Small Business Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) told the committee that he would make do with the proposed $6.9 million budget, ranking member Nydia Velázquez disagreed. The New York Democrat said the $400,000 reduction to the committee, which already has the smallest budget of the House panels, will impede its oversight of the Small Business Administration. The SBA is riddled with poor management and fraud within its health, veterans and disaster programs, according to Velázquez.
“I’m going to be the bad cop here,” she said. “Given how long the committee has been underfunded, I’m concerned the budget may not be sufficient at a time when we should be maximizing our resources.”
Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon said his committee is restricting hiring to 68 of its 71 staff slots because of a $792,000 budget cut. With 62 Members on the committee, that worsens what is already the lowest ratio of staff to Members among House committees, the California Republican said.
“Frankly we are undermanned, being the largest committee and having the great responsibility of almost half of the spending,” McKeon said. “We’re getting by, but we could use more.”
A $15 million budget has been proposed for the Armed Services Committee, which oversees more than $600 billion in defense spending. More staffers help root out waste, ranking member Adam Smith said. The Washington Democrat reminded lawmakers that a staffer was the first to identify problems in Future Combat Systems, the Army’s multibillion-dollar weapon modernization project that is now defunct.
Further cuts would seriously hinder the Armed Services Committee’s work, its chairman and ranking member agreed.
“Further cuts would be difficult,” Smith said. “We’re stretched pretty thin at the moment. We could absorb those cuts, but we would not want to go much lower.”
Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers complained about being able to find adequate staff on his planned $10.3 million budget, particularly because of the narrow skill set and security clearance needed to work on the secretive panel.
“Every committee, including this committee, could argue that, ‘Yes we’d like to fill all our slots,’” the Michigan Republican said. “It does mean a little more work for the staff that we have, it does mean a little more overtime.”
On the bright side, ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger said, the tough times have increased cooperation between the minority and majority staffs.
“In the past, sometimes our staff weren’t working as closely as they could,” the Maryland Democrat said. “Both of our staffs are working together now. ... By working together we are able to take the 5 percent cut that we all have to live with.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.