Oversight Panel Wants a Raise

Posted March 30, 2009 at 6:34pm

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) is appealing for more money to run his committee over the next two years, after learning that the panel — charged with keeping the federal government honest — received one of the smallest funding increases in the 111th Congress.

And while most House committees received less money than requested, the Oversight and Government Reform panel came in near the bottom of the list, receiving an increase of just 3.43 percent. That’s the lowest increase for the committee since the 108th Congress, according to a spreadsheet obtained by Roll Call that tracks committee funding levels from the 105th Congress to the 111th Congress.

Towns had asked for a 10.9 percent increase in funding for the next two years.

Only one other House panel — the Budget Committee — received a lower increase. But even with the 1.45 percent jump, the Budget Committee got 0.5 percent more money than it sought for the two-year period.

Oversight and Government Reform spokeswoman Jenny Rosenberg confirmed that Towns has asked the House Administration Committee to reconsider his panel’s scheduled funding increase. But she would not elaborate, nor would she say whether House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.), who oversees the funding, granted Towns’ request.

Towns took over the government reform panel from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who now heads the Energy and Commerce Committee. On assuming the helm, Towns promised to serve as a strong watchdog of the Obama administration.

While the reasons for the funding levels aren’t clear, Republicans are using the numbers as fodder for charges that Democrats aren’t interested in strong oversight of a Democratic presidency.

“This is yet another example of Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi deliberately undermining the oversight process. It is indicative of how she wants to conduct oversight in this Congress,— said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Republicans on the panel.

The $22.3 million allocated to the committee for the 2009-2010 period is contained in a House Administration Committee bill scheduled to hit the House floor today. That means any additional funding would likely have to come from a different source.

Kyle Anderson, a House Administration panel spokesman, could not confirm whether Towns and Brady have discussed the funding issue. But Anderson defended the allocation, noting that the oversight panel didn’t spend its entire kitty last Congress and ended up giving back $700,000.

“A lot of difficult deliberation took place to arrive at the proposed committee funding levels,— Anderson said. “The current economic climate calls for a stronger emphasis on fiscal stewardship, and that is reflected in these funding levels.—

But Bardella charged that “given the unparalleled amount of government spending authorized by this Congress,— there should be more funding for oversight of those resources. Because the committee has the largest staff, the broadest scope of work and “trillions— of dollars to account for, Bardella said its funding is not proportional to its workload.

“There couldn’t be a more important time for this committee to have the necessary resources to protect taxpayer dollars against waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement,— Bardella said. “You would think the Speaker would have a vested interest in ensuring that taxpayer dollars are being used properly.—

But Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Republicans are playing politics, pointing out that the Oversight Committee received the second-largest committee budget in the House. Energy and Commerce has the largest budget with $23.6 million allocated this Congress.

“House Republicans famously abandoned oversight for six years of the Bush presidency; their sudden concern has no credibility and ignores the facts,— Elshami said. “The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the second-highest funded committee in the House of Representatives and will remain so.—

Last month, Pelosi instructed her committee chairmen to delve deep into the federal agencies under their jurisdiction to look for possible budget cuts, a move that was widely viewed as a way to take some of the oversight heavy lifting off Towns’ panel.

“As our nation continues to confront severe budget deficits as a result of unsound economic policy and lax regulation over the last eight years, it is essential that, as we advance our priorities, House Committees also conduct rigorous oversight of all aspects of federal spending and government operations to help achieve deficit reduction and long term fiscal responsibility,— Pelosi wrote in a Feb. 19 letter to the chairmen.

Elshami pointed to Pelosi’s effort to engage all the committees in the oversight effort as another way that Democrats are ensuring that the process in the House is alive and aggressive.

“In fact, each committee was directed by the Speaker to submit a clear plan to ramp up oversight activities, and they have done so,— he said. “The committee funding resolution reflects our commitment to legislation to promote the economic recovery and energy independence, rigorous oversight regardless of who is in the White House, and spending restraint in the budget for Congress.—