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Why oversight matters

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:03 PM

Rep. Jason Chaffetz

In just a few short months, serious allegations have been made against the Obama Administration - the DOS for its role in the Benghazi terrorist attack, the IRS for targeting conservative groups, the DOJ for snooping on media organizations and reporters and the NSA for collecting phone data on American citizens.

Add to those scandals the ATF’s role in Fast & Furious, HHS’s illegal fundraising activities, GSA’s profligate conference spending, DHS’s extensive ammunition purchases, FAA’s unnecessary furloughs of necessary air traffic controllers and you have an alphabet soup of federal agencies accused of betraying the public trust.

On this website last week, Mary B. Eldridge complained that “nothing is being done because of the Republicans” who she claims “only say ‘no’ to everything” and are giddy over scandals. (Online letter, "Paper blind-sided by Republican ideas")

While I would disagree that passing 863 bills in the 2 years Republicans have controlled the House constitutes doing nothing, I am more concerned about Ms. Eldridge’s implication that government oversight of wrongdoing is a waste of time.Would she prefer that Congress look the other way when government agencies abuse their power or violate the Constitutional rights of American citizens?

Unpleasant though these investigations may be, our system of checks and balances depends on them.Sunlight is the best disinfectant.Federal bureaucrats need to know that if they spend lavishly on a conference, they might be called to answer for their decisions before the American people.If the State Department choses to withhold funding for security and Americans die as a result, they may have to answer for the deaths that resulted from their decisions.

I hold myself to the same standard and I am happy to answer for my own decisions.Ms. Eldridge alleges that my decision to vote to cut funding to the State Department makes me culpable for the lack of security in Benghazi – a charge disputed by the State Department itself in testimony before Congress.Budget cuts, they testified, had nothing to do with the security decisions they made in Benghazi.

As for the budget cut itself, that small cut came after a five-year period in which the State Department’s budget increased by 96% - almost double what it was in 2007.More importantly, the security team that was pulled out of Libya the month before the attack was not even funded by the State Department.It cost them nothing to keep that team in place.

All of us in public service have an obligation to answer for our decisions.That’s what oversight is all about.As a member of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, it is my job to investigate serious allegations against agencies that betray the public trust.I intend to do that job, regardless of who is in office.

Public scrutiny is both a disinfectant and a deterrent to the temptation to abuse power.It might be humiliating.But when someone is responsible for public dollars, lives or liberties, they must be held accountable for them.

Allowing large-scale mistakes to be covered up and forgotten would send a dangerous message to powerful federal agencies that their power is essentially unchecked.

Congressional and OIG investigations are important and necessary tools. If we don't hold government accountable for poor management and poor leadership, those problems will only multiply.

Given the choice to serve on any committee on Capitol Hill, I sought Oversight and Government Reform because I believe holding government accountable is not optional. I campaigned on the issue. I strongly believe that Americans deserve to know what their tax dollars are paying for — regardless of which party is in power.

More importantly, powerful agencies and bureaucrats need to know their power is not unlimited. It must be checked. And I'm determined that our committee will continue to provide that check.

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