Needed: Congressional Oversight

By:  Adam Schiff
Date: Jan. 26, 2005
Location: Washington, DC

NEEDED: CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT -- (House of Representatives - January 26, 2005)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from California (Mr. Schiff) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I want to recognize the terrible tragedy that took place in my district this morning in the city of Glendale where a terrible train accident occurred.

I recently spoke with the Glendale fire chief, who informed me that the death toll has now risen to 10 from that accident. The investigation and the search effort continues. He did report to me that he was very impressed with the level of coordination of the relief agencies on the ground, the rescue agencies on the ground. I know they are doing everything humanly possible to help the victims of that terrible crash.

I also spoke with the mayor of Glendale this morning, very shaken from what he saw at the scene; and I asked him what we could do, what I could do, what our colleagues could do to help. He said just pray. Just pray.

I want to send my thoughts and prayers out to my Glendale and Los Angeles constituents and let them know that we will certainly do everything possible in any way, and I know my colleagues will join me in that.

I would also like to express my condolences as we mourn the loss of the 35 marines in Iraq today. To those whose loved ones were lost in the helicopter crash or in action today, our hearts, our thoughts, and our prayers are with you.

Over the past 2 days, we have learned that the President will be asking Congress for an additional $80 billion supplemental appropriations to finance the war in Iraq and ongoing operations in Afghanistan. I support giving our troops all that they need to ensure their safety and to enable them to perform their missions, but for the past few months, I have been disturbed by continued reports that have detailed persistent shortages of up-armored Humvees in Iraq, especially given the repeated assurances by administration officials that everything that could be done about these shortages was being done. In fact, it appears this was not so.

It should not take a question from a GI in the field to spur the Secretary of Defense to address critical shortfalls of equipment. That, Mr. Speaker, is our job. That is our job. Congress is charged with oversight of the executive branch, and I am deeply concerned that we have not been fulfilling that critical and institutional role. As a result, our troops are riding into battle in vehicles that are not adequately protected or are jury-rigged with so-called ``hillbilly armor'' lifted from scrap heaps.

Last May, Senator CHUCK GRASSLEY, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, expressed his unease about the lack of oversight in Congress and admitted that legislative oversight was better when the Democrats controlled Congress. The majority in this Congress, Senator Grassley acknowledged, ``has delegated so much authority to the executive branch of government, and we ought to devote more time to oversight than we do.''

The critical need for oversight is underscored by a new Government Accountability Office report outlining and updating its high-risk list. The new report lists 25 Federal programs that are vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. Increasingly, the GAO also identified high-risk areas to focus on the need of broad-based transformations to address major economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges.

Of the 25 government operations and programs that comprise the GAO list, 8 are associated with the Department of Defense, the government's largest department. These include inventory management, weapons systems and acquisition, financial and contract management, personnel security clearance, management of military bases and other infrastructure, and modernization of computer systems.

The Comptroller General, David Walker, noted at a news conference yesterday that DOD's failure to rectify many of these problem areas results in billions of dollars of waste every year and inadequate accountability to the Congress and the American taxpayer.

I am not surprised to see a large number of DOD programs on the GAO's list. As an assistant U.S. attorney, I prosecuted defense contractor fraud. It was true then that if you throw enormous amounts of money at any department without adequate oversight, you would get tremendous amounts of fraud and abuse. Given the hundreds of billions of dollars in the DOD's annual budget, the potential for waste, the reality of waste, fraud, and abuse is enormous.

No amount of oversight and investigation will eliminate all instances of fraud, but that does not excuse our failure to try. I urge my colleagues, and especially my colleagues in the majority who alone have the power to call hearings, to subpoena witnesses, to take our oversight role more seriously. The American taxpayer and, more importantly, our men and women in uniform are relying upon us.


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