At a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing today on opportunities to reduce duplication in government programs and enhance government revenue, Democrats left no doubt where they want to begin that effort.
Led by ranking member Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Democrats repeatedly hammered big oil companies for failing to pay the government its fair share for the resources harvested from federal land.
"We're being cheated," Cummings said. "It's money that's due the American people on our land. ... This has to be a priority."
The Government Accountability Office noted in a new report, which was the subject of today's hearing, that improved management of federal oil and gas resources has the potential to save the government billions of dollars.
GAO's concern about the Interior Department's oil and gas management efforts are not new. The agency added the issue to its list of "high risk" government programs released earlier this year.
"There has not been a comprehensive look in 25 years of what the federal government is charging for these leases," GAO Comptroller Gene Dodaro said. He noted that Interior has agreed to do that assessment but in the meantime "there is not enough verification of production that is occurring to ensure the government is getting its proper return."
Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) promised again to hold a hearing specifically on that issue. But Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) said Republicans are doing little more than paying lip service to the issue.
Tierney said Republicans have demonstrated no desire to fix the problem and have instead chosen to block Democratic legislative efforts to get oil companies to renegotiate their contracts to ensure the government gets what it is owed.
"Let's get serious," Tierney told Republicans on the panel.
Indiana Republican Dan Burton responded that the proposed Democratic fixes amounted to an improper form of governmental blackmail.
"I think there's a way we can do this in the future ... when we renegotiate new leases, not threaten [oil companies] over old leases," Burton said.
Republicans said that if there is an entity that is paying lip service to the idea of eliminating redundancies in government and saving taxpayer money it is the White House, who declined to send Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew to appear at today's hearing.
Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) noted that he has heard President Obama say repeatedly that he wants the government to be more efficient, but the lawmaker has seen no action.
"We have a hearing today where we invite the director of the OMB and he refuses to show up?" Mack said. "I think it's outrageous. ... I think it shows a disregard to the legislative branch and the separation of powers."
Cummings noted that OMB is in the midst of conducting its own analysis to cut red tape after Obama's recent executive order and that he believes OMB will appear before the committee when it is further into that effort and can provide testimony that will be helpful.
'Jurisdiction trumps all'
After the hearing, former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who was invited to testify before the committee, said he believed OMB should have been a part of today's hearing. But, he said, if Congress is serious about fixing the problem, House members also need to take a good look in the mirror.
Davis, a former chairman of the oversight panel, argued in his testimony that overlapping programs exist in large part because of the way Congress does its job.
"Jurisdiction trumps all," Davis said. "Thus, while two different members believe there may be a need for a given federal service, they will surely write the authorizing legislation with their individual committee assignments in mind."
He cited the creation of job training programs as an example. GAO noted in its report this week that it had identified 44 different employment and training programs spread out across multiple government agencies.
Davis said that while "bureaucracy" often gets the blame for overlap "in many ways Congress created the many-headed monster we bemoan in an attempt to protect its jurisdictional prerogatives."
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