The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday that after eight years of battling President Barack Obama’s hostility to oversight, the committee is ready to partner with President-elect Donald J. Trump on government reform.
“Very excited that we get to do the reform part of the this,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R.-Utah), who said the last time he met personally with Trump was in 2008, along with W. Mitt Romney. “I think you’ll see the committee, more than ever, pushing to do the actual legislative side of the equation.”
The congressman said he was working with incoming White House chief of staff Reince Preibus and former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission Donald McGahn, whom Trump tapped to serve as White House counsel.
Chaffetz said a major goal in the new congressional session is reforming the management of federal employees, including breaking up the concentration of the federal government’s civilian workforce in Washington, changing the federal worker pension system, and increasing protections for federal workers from civilians employees, whose sexual misconduct and behavior goes unpunished because of bad rules and laws.
“Sexual misconduct is not clearing defined, for instance, in law, even at the Department of Justice,” the congressman said. “Various agencies have different definitions and different tables of penalties.”
The chairman said the committee held more than a dozen hearings, in which federal workforce supervisors testified that they could not discipline or fire civilian workers caught misbehaving in a sexual context.
A classic example of the situation is when Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. made one of his last acts in office, putting out a guidance reminding Department of Justice employees that it was wrong to hire a prostitute, the Utah congressman said.
Another reform for federal workers is Chaffetz’s plan to convert the current traditional pension plan to an employee contribution plan, similar to the civilian 401K plans in the private sector.
The congressman said his own state of Utah accomplished this conversionf or its state employees, who now have better returns, more control, and at a savings to the Utah taxpayer.
The heaviest lift is Chaffetz’s intent to break up the cluster of federal agencies and workers around Washington.
“Not every bit of the federal government has to sit in the greater Washington, D.C., area,” he said.
“More of these departments and agencies should be reflective of the United States of America,” he said. “If they were physically located in other areas of the country they would benefit from that.”
There is no legislation pending to decamp federal agencies and workers from the national capital yet, he said.
But Chaffetz is very serious about it, he said. Moving agencies to Des Moines or Detroit would also save the government money, as the agencies are no longer competing with other interests looking for office space in one of the hottest commercial real estate markets in the country.
“Think of what it would do for traffic,” he said.
“Why can’t the FBI headquarters be in Philadelphia?” he asked.
“I like the idea of the Department of Transportation being in a metropolitan area, like Detroit or Los Angeles,” he said. “I like the idea of Department of the Interior coming to Salt Lake City or the EPA going out there. I think it would make it a better agency and it would be better for employee morale, too.”
The one “ask” Chaffetz said he made of the Trump team was his request for the new administration to immediately undo Obama’s decision to decree that more that one million square acres in Utah were now the Bears Ears National Monument, a move that put the land in control of a commission of American Indian activists appointed by Obama.
“I think that qualifies to be in the initial round of reversals, and that I have asked for,” he said.
The chairman said he also discussed the matter with Rep. Ryan Zinke (R.-Mont.), whom Trump selected to lead the Interior Department.
Chaffetz said he has disagreed with Zinke over federal lands in the past, as the Montana congressman often sides with Democrats looking to retain or expand federal control of western lands.
A source familiar with Zinke’s thinking on the Bears Ear National Monument—and the Gold Butte National Monument that Obama designated the same day—told Breitbart News the retired Navy SEAL commander looks to review everything the Obama administration did through executive action at Interior, and that with regards to the monuments, although the Antiquities Act Obama invoked means that monument status is irrevocable, Zinke believes Trump will have the authority to modify Obama’s order, rendering it meaningless.
Another major change is that Chaffetz said he converted the Transportation and Public Assets Subcommittee to become the new Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee, tasked with tracking federal funds that the government disperses to other government agencies.
“There are billions of dollars that flow out the door that are done in conjunction with grants, think of FEMA, when there is a disaster.”
Chaffetz said his reform program does not mean he is giving up on oversight or that he is setting himself up as a defender of the incoming president, he said.
“We still have a very important role in oversight,” he said. “We are not going to dismiss that–this committee was founded in 1814 with the idea that we would provide oversight of everything that the executive branch does. Our committee? We can investigate anything at anytime–we still have the subpoena authority.”
The congressman said he is not concerned whether the new president and his team like oversight.
“It is new territory for me, having a Republican president, but I fully intend to execute our constitutional responsibility to provide that oversight,” he said.
“I do hope to get a lot more cooperation; we’ve been stonewalled by the Obama administration for years,” he said.
Chaffetz said when he took over the committee from Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.), he put the Obama administration on notice regarding all requests for documents, including ones relating to Hillary R. Clinton’s mishandling of sensitive electronic correspondence as secretary of state, the IRS targeting of Tea Party and conservative activists in the 2012 election cycle, and the administration’s program to facilitate moving American firearms to crime gangs in Mexico called Fast and Furious.
The chairman said he has a comprehensive list of document requests that are still outstanding. “We’ve got to clean up a whole lot of outstanding requests.”
Chaffez said he was concerned about reports of Russian interference in the 2016 election, but he was ceding that line of inquiry to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is better set up to handle classified information and interact with the intelligence community.