Oversight Never Ended at Energy and Commerce

Posted February 2, 2007 at 4:33pm

Across Capitol Hill, Democrats are beginning to wield gavels, and the new majority has proclaimed its intention to make Congressional oversight and investigations a priority. While these are laudable goals, claims by critics that Congressional Republicans abdicated their constitutional oversight responsibilities over the past 12 years could not be more wrong.

As the Energy and Commerce Committee’s chief oversight and investigations counsel for nine of those years, I had the privilege to serve under former full-committee Chairmen Joe Barton (R-Texas), Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Tom Bliley (R-Va.), all of whom took these responsibilities very seriously.

Collectively, they held more than 200 investigative hearings. Our dogged oversight of corporate America and the federal government has saved taxpayers billions of dollars, tried wrongdoers in the court of public opinion, and resulted in scores of new policies, legislation and enforcement actions.

The Energy and Commerce Committee played a significant role in uncovering major scandals in corporate America over the past decade, raising public awareness of key issues and often spurring crucial reforms. Our investigations of Enron/Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, Global Crossing and Qwest brought corporate ethics center stage and directly resulted in passage of the landmark Sarbanes-Oxley legislation.

The Ford/Firestone investigation produced the Tread Act, the most significant upgrade of automobile safety rules in more than a decade, and our work on hospital billing practices forced some of the country’s largest hospitals to adopt changes that today are benefiting some of society’s most vulnerable citizens.

Our investigation into prescription drug reimbursement under Medicare and Medicaid resulted in changes to the law that will save taxpayers an estimated $25 billion over the next 10 years.

Last fall, we held BP accountable for oil spills on Alaska’s North Slope, much to the chagrin of critics who claimed that a Republican Congress would never challenge “Big Oil.” In addition, by shining the national spotlight on Hewlett-Packard’s corporate spying scandal, the committee made more Americans aware of the limits to our privacy, prompting Congress to enact the first federal ban on the insidious practice of “pretexting.”

These investigations were detailed and hard-hitting. The vast majority of our investigations involved extensive document requests and detailed interviews. We grilled corporate executives when necessary — just ask Jeffrey Skilling, Jacques Nasser, Gary Winnick and Patricia Dunn, to name a few — and dozens of others, notably Andrew Fastow, Richard Scrushy and Sam Waksal, elected to assert their Fifth Amendment rights. We also made public thousands of key internal corporate documents so the American people could judge matters for themselves. As USA Today noted in 2003, this panel’s corporate investigations were “enough to strike fear in the hearts of businesses everywhere.”

Nor was the Bush administration given a pass, as some have alleged. We conducted investigations and performed oversight on numerous government programs, agencies and departments within the committee’s broad jurisdiction to identify waste and improve efficiency, including: the Food and Drug Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Communications Commission and Departments of Energy, Justice, and Health and Human Services. For example, we uncovered massive waste and fraud in the FCC’s Schools and Libraries program; revealed that dozens of NIH scientists also were working for drug companies without proper disclosure or approval; and held a series of hearings this past year examining ways for the government and private industry to prevent and prosecute Internet child pornography.

Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) is well-known for his tenacious oversight. However, it also is undeniable that our record of vigorous, meaningful investigations has bolstered the distinguished legacy of this committee.

Mark Paoletta, a partner at the law firm Dickstein Shapiro, served as chief counsel for oversight and investigations at the House Energy and Commerce Committee from 1997 to January 2007.