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The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is a United States House of Representatives committee that has existed in varying forms since 1816.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the main investigative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. After Republicans gained control of the House in 1995, the committee was reorganized to include just seven subcommittees. This reorganization consolidated the jurisdiction previously covered by 3 full committees and 14 subcommittees, and resulted in a 50 percent cut in staff.[1] In 2007, Henry Waxman (D-CA) the chairman of the committee proposed an additional reorganization which combined the duties of the seven previous subcommittees into five. This reorganization was adopted by the full committee January 18, 2007.[2]

The Committee's government-wide oversight jurisdiction and expanded legislative authority make it one of the most influential and powerful committees in the House. The Committee serves as Congress' chief investigative and oversight committee, and is granted broad jurisdiction. The chairman of the committee is the only committee chairman in the House with the authority to issue subpoenas without a committee vote.[3]

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Establishment and alumni of the Committee

It first appeared as the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments, which was created in 1927 by consolidating the 11 Committees on Expenditures previously spread among the various departments of the federal government to oversee how taxpayer monies were spent. The Committee's immediate predecessor, the Committee on Government Operations, was established in 1952. The name change was intended to communicate the primary function of the committee: to study "the operations of Government activities at all levels with a view to determining their economy and efficiency." It is the Committee's government-wide oversight jurisdiction that sets it apart from other House committees. The committee was renamed in the 106th Congress as the Committee on Government Reform. While retaining the agenda of the former Committee on Government Operations, the Committee also has the responsibilities of the former Committee on Post Office and Civil Service and the Committee on the District of Columbia. On January 4, 2007, the 110th Congress changed its name to its current name.

Committee alumni include: Bob Dole, Dennis Hastert, Dick Armey, Donald Rumsfeld, Dan Quayle, Jim Wright and John McCormack, to name a few. Currently, the Committee is chaired by Congressman Ed Towns (D-NY).

Committee members, 111th Congress

The committee chairman is Edolphus Towns of New York,[4] and the Ranking Member is Darrell Issa of California. Towns replaced Henry Waxman who resigned his chairmanship to become chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Issa replaced Tom Davis of Virginia who resigned from Congress in November 2008.

Majority Minority

Source: Committee membership list

Subcommittees

Subcommittee Chair Ranking Member
Domestic Policy Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) Jim Jordan (R-OH)
Federal Workforce, Post Office, and the District of Columbia Stephen Lynch (D-MA) Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)
Government Management, Organization, and Procurement Diane Watson (D-CA) Brian Bilbray (R-CA)
Information Policy, Census, and National Archives William Lacy Clay, Jr. (D-MO) Patrick McHenry (R-NC)
National Security and Foreign Affairs John F. Tierney (D-MA) Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

Recent events, 1998-2007

This Committee was very active during President Bill Clinton's term; it issued 1,052 subpoenas to probe alleged misconduct by the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Party between 1997 and 2002, at a cost of more than $35 million. Under this period, subpoenas could only be issued by the Committee chair, a rule change during the Clinton administration to facilitate investigations without delays caused by objections from minority members. By contrast, in the period between 1998 and 2007, chairman Thomas M. Davis and the Republican majority had permitted three subpoenas to the Bush administration, including one to the Defense Department over Hurricane Katrina documents.[7] Because so few subpoenas were issued during this time, the Committee became more known for the issues it did not investigate, rather than the ones that it did. The Boston Globe reported that an "examination of committees' own reports found that the House Government Reform Committee held just 37 hearings described as "oversight" or investigative in nature during the last Congress, down from 135 such hearings held by its predecessor, the House Government Operations Committee, in 1993-94, the last year the Democrats controlled the chamber."[8]

There was high interest in the priorities of the then newly installed Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) who told reporters after the November elections that "The most difficult thing will be to pick and choose" what to investigate.[9] Congressional leaders also renamed the Committee and five of its subcommittees to emphasize its new commitment to oversight responsibilities, and added a subcommittee on transparency.[10]

Specifically, between 2000 and 2006, various scandals were in the news that generated one or no subpoenas for testimony or documents. These events include the September 11, 2001 attacks, a leak of classified or secret information naming Central Intelligence Agency agent Valerie Plame, abuses and war crimes traced to the CIA in Abu Ghraib prison, evidence that charges that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction were knowingly false, illegal campaign contributions by lobbyists including Jack Abramoff, billions of dollars in preventable damage and thousands of deaths due to an incompetent response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its contractors during Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. Gulf Coast, and the suppression of accepted scientific data such as that of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration supporting the theory of global warming by Philip Cooney. After revelations in the Downing Street memo, a document containing incriminating information on the buildup to the Iraq War, Democrats in the minority were refused even a hearing chamber and were forced to meet in the basement of the U.S. Capitol Building on the matter.[11]

Since the November 2006 elections, the Washington Post published a series of investigative articles on the poor Congressional oversight of government contracts[12][13][14][15] during the time that included the scandals already listed above. Post authors Scott Higham and Robert O'Harroware continuing the series.

The Committee under Davis's chairmanship launched two notable investigations that, for various reasons, were considered controversial. One such investigation was an inquiry into a decision to remove life support from Terri Schiavo. The Committee issued a subpoena, without any Democratic objections, requiring Schiavo to "appear" so that members could "examine nutrition and hydration which incapacitated patients receive as part of their care." The apparent objective of this, beyond providing a learning opportunity to committee members, was to delay the pending termination of Schiavo's life, whose wishes were in dispute, while the Congress considered federal legislation specifically targeted at Schiavo's death order. [16] Minority members opposed the action. Chairman Davis said it was "a legitimate legislative inquiry."[17] Davis issued a joint statement with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) that stated: "This inquiry should give hope to Terri, her parents and friends, and the millions of people throughout the world who are praying for her safety. This fight is not over."[18][17]

Another controversial investigation was one into the use of anabolic steroids by players in Major League Baseball. The trigger for the hearings was publication of a memoir, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big, by José Canseco.

They also are investigating World Wrestling Entertainment, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance regarding about their talent wellness/ drug policies, after the death of one of WWE's performers Chris Benoit possibly being linked to steroid abuse asking WWE to inform the committee on any illegal drug abuse in Professional Wrestling.[19] TNA Wrestling and the NWA however, unlike WWE have no programs at this time. It is unknown at this time whether any other promotions such as Ring of Honor will also be contacted.

On July 8, 2009 the Committee Republicans released an investigative staff report[20] discussing the financial collapse of 2008-2009. The report alleges that the government was the cause of the collapse, due what it described as government meddling in the United States housing and lending market in the name of "affordable housing".

References

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