Civics 101 teaches students about the three branches of the federal government. Representing Iowans in the United States Senate, I enjoy meeting with students during my annual meetings in Iowa’s 99 counties or when youth groups make a trip to Washington, D.C.
Students ask informed questions. They understand that Congress writes legislation and holds the tax-and-spending powers of the federal government. They know the President is America’s commander-in-chief of the U.S. military and has the authority to sign legislation into the law of the land or send it back to Congress with a veto. But one key function of Congress doesn’t usually register as much attention. And that is congressional oversight.
Oversight is an essential function of the legislative branch authorized by the Constitution to help keep the federal government accountable to the people. It requires vigilance and stewardship to keep tabs on a federal bureaucracy that has grown to roughly 500 departments, agencies, administrations, and authorities. While the President, as chief executive, is ultimately responsible for managing the federal bureaucracy, Congress holds sway through its funding, lawmaking and oversight duties.
The federal government is reaching into more Americans’ lives, especially as social safety nets capture a greater share of the population in our aging society. The President’s health care law that was steamrolled through Congress in 2010 has cast an even wider federal entitlement net across the country. Its rulemaking and regulatory policies also impact the hiring decisions of businesses from Main Street to Wall Street. From administering tax laws to implementing immigration policies, managing food, drug and aviation safety, setting school lunch guidelines, enforcing nursing home standards, and defending national security, Uncle Sam wears a lot of hats in the 21st century.
I made a commitment long ago to keep up a crusade on behalf of taxpayers to bring more transparency, accountability and efficiency to the federal bureaucracy. It can be a lonely battle, and resolution often takes a long time.
Consider my decade-long effort to secure better management controls for government-issued charge cards used by federal workers. With oversight work over the years, I exposed fraudulent, wasteful purchases made on Uncle Sam’s tab, from jewelry to gambling to cruises. Spending abuses occurred within the Department of Defense, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Aviation Administration, and elsewhere. This year, the reform bill sent to the President’s desk in September strengthens measures to thwart misuse of government-issued cards and penalize those who do, including loss of their jobs.
As a fighter for whistleblowers and independent watchdogs within the federal bureaucracy, I continue to shine a bright light on wrongdoing in Washington. Tragically, it can mean the difference between life and death.
Consider my two-year investigation into a botched gun-walking operation that exposed what can happen when the federal bureaucracy puts itself above the law. A U.S. border patrol agent’s murder at the U.S.-Mexico border was linked to guns sold illegally under the Justice Department’s “Fast and Furious” program. Stonewalling and denial by the Attorney General, the nation’s top law enforcement official, reflects poorly on the administration’s allegiance to upholding the public trust and thumbing its nose at the rule of law.
There’s more. This time the questionable use of tax dollars is occurring at the Department of Health and Human Services. Revelations of expenses for a public relations firm in California indicate the administration has the audacity to pay Hollywood to promote the controversial 2010 health care law on network television. I’ve called upon the Department of Health and Human Services to account for the $1 billion awarded to states to establish the new health care exchanges across the country.
Congressional oversight is a vitally important responsibility of the legislative branch of government in our system of checks and balances. It helps to uphold the public trust and unlock mismanagement in the executive branch of our government, which has become massive in scale and scope.