During a committee hearing on Capitol Hill in May, a Senator showed the American public that Congress has forgotten one of its “implied” powers in the Constitution, Congressional oversight.
In response to a recent Government Accountability Office GAO) report, an independent Senator asked GAO Comptroller Gene Dodaro the following question: “You’ve got all these recommendations. How do we systematically be sure they’re implemented…Don’t we need somebody in the government whose job it is to wake up every morning and be sure that these things are done? Somebody at OMB or the White House or someplace?…My experience is that unless someone has the responsibility for making these things happen…it’s not going to happen.”
Mr. Dodaro replied, “Yea, I agree with that and you could charge OMB with doing that within the Executive Branch. With all due respect…a lot of this has to be done by the Congress.”
Mr. Dodaro is exactly right.
One of Congress’s primary jobs is to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. According to the Congressional Research Service, “Congressional oversight is an integral part of the system of checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches.” Even President Woodrow Wilson thought oversight was just as important as lawmaking, “Quite as important as legislation is vigilant oversight of administration.”
However, effective oversight of federal agencies and programs has fallen by the wayside in recent years. GAO’s annual duplication report shows that Congress has only implemented about half of GAO’s recommendations since 2011. According to GAO, there are $10’s of billions of dollars in savings left to be acted on. While addressing half of GAO’s recommendations has saved billions, Congress is swimming in a sea of unaddressed recommendations. In fact, over the last 3 years, Congress has addressed only 38 GAO recommendations while at the same time 121 additional ones have been added to the list. GAO only has the power to highlight waste and inefficiencies. As Comptroller Dodaro points out, Congress is responsible for taking action to save taxpayer dollars, reduce our debt, and make programs more efficient.
Boasting about creating new programs and new laws is what Congress does best. However, it is not the only job Congress has. Congress routinely fails to address programs and laws that do not work. Programs that are failing are a drain on the federal budget and do little to assist those they are intended to help.
The Senator observed that “unless someone has the responsibility for making these things happen…it’s not going to happen.” Congress does have the responsibility. What is lacking is the drive to “wake up every morning and be sure that these things are done.” Congress must embrace their oversight responsibility. By doing so Congress will not only make government programs better and more efficient, but it will also reduce the debt burden we place on future generations.