Lawmakers Bicker Over Treatment of Feds in First Oversight Committee Meeting

Lawmakers Bicker Over Treatment of Feds in First Oversight Committee Meeting

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the new chairman of the oversight panel. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The House panel with primary oversight of the federal workforce and agency operations got off to a contentious start in its first meeting Tuesday, with nominal calls for bipartisanship overshadowed by political bickering.

Largely at issue was the process for subpoenaing individuals to testify before the committee and agencies to submit information; at one point the discussion devolved into a debate over how to recruit workers to federal service.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, began his first address as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee offering olive branches to the Democratic minority and with promises to work together in ways where his predecessor, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., failed. He also spoke highly of the federal workforce, calling the employees “wonderful,” “diligent” and “patriotic.”

He added, however, there are bad apples at every agency, and “we have to address those.”

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who served in the same position under Issa, said the last four years were marked by acrimony. Issa’s reign was a “stain on this committee’s integrity and an embarrassment to the House of Representatives,” Cummings said.

While Chaffetz promised to lead the committee in a new direction, Democrats met his first act — to approve the committee’s rules for the 114th Congress — with significant pushback. Democrats took issue with Chaffetz’s plan to continue empowering the chairman to issue subpoenas without a vote or consultation with the minority party.

Cummings warned Chaffetz about going into “Issa mode,” while Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., said Chaffetz and other committee chairmen were “Issa-tizing” the House.

“This is about Republicans not wanting public debate on subpoenas,” Cummings said. “This is a big deal to us. We do not want to slip into darkness.”

Chaffetz defended the rule, arguing federal agencies in the Obama administration have shown resistance to offering testimony and information. An expedited subpoena process is necessary, Chaffetz said, to avoid further delay in receiving what the committee needs.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said Congress must treat witnesses from federal agencies with respect, or “people won’t want to go into government.”

Top-level employees that agencies seek to recruit “have many options,” Maloney said. “They can go into many fields.”

The committee eventually approved the rules, and struck down an amendment to require votes on whom and what to subpoena, by a party line vote. The lawmakers also approved a measure to give certain veterans-turned-civil-servants more up front sick leave, as well as a bill to force federal agencies to provide additional information on the expected costs of their regulations.

3.8 percent pay raise: Reality check!!!

3.8 percent pay raise: Reality check!!!

Friday – 1/16/2015, 2:00am EST

The bad news about the 2016 federal pay raise is it probably won’t be worth anywhere near 3.8 percent. Why? Couple of reasons:

Like most political stuff it is complicated. And not always what it seems. Example:

On the upside, all 31 of the House and Senate members who are proposing the 3.8 percent January increase are Democrats. Unity is good.

On the downside, Democrats lost control of the Senate last November. They also became even more of a minority in the House..

The reality — thanks to those who bothered to vote in last year’s mid-term election — is that most of the 535 members of Congress are not Democrats. Do the math.

The good news is that their dual minority status (in both the House and Senate) has converted some Democrats, who previously didn’t give a flying fig about “bureaucrats” into passionate pro-civil servant legislators.

Many Democrats now demanding fair play and better pay for federal employees — in the form of a 3.8 percent pay raise next year — voted with the White House when it first proposed a two-year (later extended to three-year) federal pay freeze.

The question long-time Washington hands might ask is if these suddenly pro-pay raise Democrats have seen the light and realized the error of their ways? Decided that the 3 years of no pay raises, followed by two years of 1 percent pay raises, have worked a hardship on federal white collar workers. Do they believe that the economy is so much improved that feds should go from zero to 3.8 percent? Or …

As some cynics might point out, are the new pay raise converts playing politics? Have they decided that since they are in the minority — meaning tight-fisted, anti-fed Republicans are firmly in the majority — they can now afford to be generous on the pay front? Possibly because they know a pay raise of that amount (3.8 percent) doesn’t stand a chance, but will cast the GOP in an even worse light with federal workers. I’m just saying …

Some Democrats now pushing for the 3.8 percent raise are true believers. They’ve been behind feds for a long time. They understand the situation and, not incidentally, get elected from congressional districts that are full of federal and military personnel and retirees. They know and like feds, and also know they better if they want to remain in Congress. They include Beltway area Reps. Gerry Connolly, Steny Hoyer, Elijah Cummings, Chris Van Hollen, Eleanor Holmes Norton and freshman Don Beyer. All are from Maryland, Virginia or D.C., which is home to 14 percent of the federal workforce.

Some of the new pro-pay raise converts, however, have previously gone along with pay freeze after pay freeze — when proposed by their President.

Now that they are out of power (at least for the next two years) some would say the Democrats — certain that Republicans will oppose it — have nothing to lose by supporting a more generous/deserved pay raise for feds.

Does that sound cynical?

House passes bill to ‘rein in excessive regulatory costs.’ Could it become law?

January 15 at 6:00 AM

The Republican-controlled House this week approved a bill that would impose additional red tape on federal regulators, the people normally dispensing the tape.

The measure, which passed on Tuesday with support from eight Democrats, would require agencies to adopt the least-costly regulations considered during rule-making, with limited exceptions.

The proposal would also add more than 74 new requirements to the rule-making process, many of which would require regulators to carefully document whether they answered questions such as:

* Have you considered the alternative of no federal response?

* Have you considered whether this rule would contribute to the very problem you’re trying to address?

* Are you legally authorized to propose a rule in this situation?

* Have you considered the benefits of alternative rules?

Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement last week that the measure would “rein in excessive regulatory costs.”

Although the bill passed the house, it is unclear whether the new Republican-controlled Senate will bother to vote on it, especially after the White House threatened to veto the measure on Monday.

The White House said in a statement that the proposal would “impose unprecedented and unnecessary procedural requirements on agencies that would prevent them from efficiently performing their statutory responsibilities” and “create needless regulatory uncertainty.”

The legislation’s supporters have brushed off that thinking, saying the bill would only give the government a taste of its own medicine.

“We feel your pain,” Dan Danner, chief executive of the National Federation of Independent Business, said in a statement this week. “It shouldn’t be easy for the government to make life harder for small businesses and individual citizens.”

If passed, the bill would hinder some of the Obama administration’s biggest regulatory efforts, including plans to implement stricter carbon-emissions standards and a proposal to reclassify Internet providers as public utilities.

In order to overcome a presidential veto, Congress would need to pass the legislation with a two-thirds vote, or supermajority, after Obama rejects it. Republicans do not have enough seats in the House or Senate to accomplish that feat on their own.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.

GOP lawmakers retreat to Hershey in a search for common ground

GOP lawmakers retreat to Hershey in a search for common ground

By Paul Kane January 15 at 12:55 PM

HERSHEY, Pa. – Congressional Republicans are engaged an intensive day of reflection and preparation for their first session with majority control at both ends of the Capitol in eight years.

In a rare joint retreat together at America’s favorite chocolate-infused resort town, House and Senate Republicans are working their way through a series of panel discussions trying to iron out their differences in both politics and policy.

With the 2016 presidential race quickly taking shape, a large contingent of Republicans are pushing a conservative agenda that isn’t too sharply edged, hoping to set the stage for their eventual White House nominee.

But there’s a smaller — but more-vocal — bloc that wants to press the most conservative agenda possible, arguing that by demonstrating their principles Republicans can best position themselves for longer term victories. Continue reading

Expect a Carrot-and-Stick Approach From New Workforce Watchdog

Expect a Carrot-and-Stick Approach From New Workforce Watchdog

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairs the government operations panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairs the government operations panel of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Associated Press file photo

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., spent many years running a small business, and in that time he had to hire and fire many employees.

It is that experience that led the Republican lawmaker to head the House panel with direct oversight of the federal workforce. Meadows will chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s revamped Government Operations Subcommittee, which, in addition to its oversight responsibilities, will be the primary forum for crafting the committee’s legislation.

Meadows’ chief goal as chairman is two-pronged: hold poor performers more accountable, and find better ways to reward those who do their jobs well.

“We have an outstanding federal workforce,” Meadows said in an interview with Government Executive, “and yet, we have a few people within it who will either abuse that or take advantage of the system and not be held accountable. Because of that, in the eyes of many of our fellow Americans, it gives the federal workforce a bad name.”

To change that perception, Meadows said, lawmakers need to reform the system. What does reform look like? Treating federal employees more like their private sector counterparts, similar to the way Meadows used to deal with his own workers.

Now in just his second term, Meadows said he wants more of an “emphasis on making sure the federal workplace is not just efficient and accountable, but also one that is a healthy and friendly work environment.” He added that in his mind, those two things “go hand in hand.” When federal employees see those not carrying their weight go unpunished, they feel disheartened.

Seeing firsthand the difficulties agencies have in dealing with poor performers has been “eye opening,” Meadows said, adding that employers should be able to “address it and move on.”

For Meadows, that stick should also come with a carrot—with a renewed focus on bonuses for outstanding work. Ultimately, his goal is “making sure we have the best, the brightest and well-compensated federal workforce.”

He said he has a responsibility to let members of his own caucus and the public know that most federal employees are not the bad apples that grab headlines.

“Don’t paint all federal employees with a very broad brush,” Meadows warned. “I have found some of the most dedicated and oftentimes underpaid people in the country work for the federal government.”

Meadows hasn’t always been so magnanimous towards federal employees. As a freshman legislator in 2013, he was dubbed the “man behind the shutdown.” He defended his actions as simply part of an effort to defeat the Affordable Care Act, not an attempt to prevent agencies from carrying out their missions.

More recently, in response to accusations that Internal Revenue Service employees destroyed official documents while under investigation, Meadows introduced the Federal Records Accountability Act. The bill — which cleared the House in the 113th Congress but floundered in the Senate — would have required federal agencies to fire any employees found guilty of destroying or manipulating records.

Meadows said that bill and other oversight committee legislation that failed to pass the previous Congress would be first on the schedule under the leadership of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. Chaffetz, who took the reins from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has said he hopes to advance a bill requiring federal agencies to fire any employees delinquent on tax debts, which he has put forward in each of the last two sessions of Congress. Another measure to make it easier for agencies to dismiss senior executives will also likely make its way onto the agenda, according to Meadows and the bill’s sponsor in the last Congress, Rep Tim Walberg, R-Mich.

As a former businessman, Meadows said he has worked favorably with unions to find common ground, and expects to do the same in his new role. Under new leadership, Meadows said he anticipated both his panel and the full oversight committee would form better working relationships with Democrats and stakeholders to focus on solutions to federal workforce problems.