House Democrats Need to Conduct Hearings... on Government Waste
This article originally appeared in the Daily Caller on November 12, 2018.
Now that midterms are over, rhetorical bomb-throwing and campaign clichés must give way to governing for the good of the country.
After recapturing the House, Democrats have pledged to investigate President Trump’s administration, along with alleged shenanigans committed by their Republican foes in other branches of power.
While it is important to investigate the activities of government officials and hold their feet to the fire, a coherent, well-executed strategy is needed to move these hearings beyond empty grandstanding and into ones which will genuinely hold the government and government officials accountable.
Instead of devoting taxpayer dollars to finding creative but completely unrealistic potential avenues for the President’s impeachment, House Democrats would be wise to work with Republicans to investigate the excesses of the federal bureaucracy writ large.
Lax controls and frivolous spending across agencies should concern lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, and that shared concern would give members of Congress an opportunity to work together and unite a bitterly divided country. By shining light on decadent designs and precarious priorities, lawmakers can keep their populist angling without alienating half the country.
While the oft-heralded “Blue Wave” never quite happened, the Democrats’ (at least) 28-seat swing in the House was enough to gain control of a chamber controlled by Republicans since 2010. And continuing a hallowed bipartisan tradition, victorious Democrats have promised that no stone will remain unturned in investigating the White House.
Did President Trump marshal “instruments of state power” to punish media companies critical of him? How about those tax returns? These may be questions worth asking, but the countless hours and taxpayer dollars spent hunting for answers likely have better use.
One promising area for hearings is the systematic waste and overspending by the Federal Government under both the Trump administration and his predecessor.
The State Department’s embassy construction program, tasked with constructing 150 new embassies worldwide (from 1999 to 2018) that meet the security needs of American personnel living abroad is an excellent example. A $17.5 billion program morphed into a $24 billion one by 2017, and after almost a decade, only half the promised upgrades have been completed.
Meanwhile, lavish design choices that have nothing to do with safety threaten to swamp taxpayers in unnecessary debt. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) notes many examples of staggering waste, such as how the Department of State “could have saved nearly $950,000 had it utilized an aluminum handrail — rather than a bronze handrail — for one embassy’s main staircase.”
Additionally, “the use of a customized glass exterior wall…embassy significantly impacted cost and schedule after contract award, adding at least $18 million to the cost and 180 days to the schedule.”
House Democrats will also find much to investigate at the Pentagon, a more traditional target for left-leaning lawmakers. According to a report released by the Pentagon’s Inspector General (IG) in December 2017, U.S. military bases in foreign countries continue to suffer from lackluster safety standards.
A comprehensive health and safety inspection at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar unearthed hundreds of poor safety practices and nonexistent oversight on contractor projects. Even simple checks on fire sprinkler installations were lacking in areas frequented by armed services personnel.
The 253 deficiencies that inspectors deemed threatening to the lives of service-members could have been prevented with basic maintenance and monitoring on bases in tumultuous regions. These easily-preventable threats show a lack of priorities, in the midst of record Defense spending and hundreds of Pentagon earmarks unearthed by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.
Whether in the State Department or Pentagon, showcasing skewed spending priorities is an easy way to protect US personnel and taxpayers at the same time. It also succeeds in showing the entire country- rather than just one half- that the new leadership is interested in hard-working citizens getting a fair shake.
Lawmakers on dueling sides of the aisle will never agree on corporate tax cuts or minimum wage increases, but they can concur on the need to keep government transparent and accountable across branches and agencies.