Parliament of Whores

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David Segal, The Washington Monthly/January/February 1994

There were newspaper accounts of cost overruns, murmurings of design defects, and rumors of opposition within the Pentagon. In January of 1989, the militarys new cargo transport plane, McDonnell Douglas C-17. had all the symptoms of a troubled{ program, and the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations committee was going to do something about it. Swinging into investigative mode, it assembled a handful of its members, summoned some military brass, alerted the media and held . . . an informecial.

Sure, the event was billed as a Congressional hearing, but that phrase evokes a semi-circle of unamused lawmakers bearing down on the glum, fifth-taking witnesses with lawyers at their side. This event looked more like one of those scripted half-hour cable programs designed to sell rechargeable hand blenders. All the elements were there: a genial host (Congressman Norm Dicks) helping an animated huckster (General Duane H. Cassidy) sell us a product (the C-17) that we dont really need. And the sales pitch covered all the bases:

This thing really does the job!:
Rep. Dicks: Isnt the C-17 much more capable of landing and taking off:

General Cassidy: It performance is much better . . . It give us the flexibility inherent to being able to go more places.

Its loaded with great features!:
Rep. Dicks: The C-17 gives you that intratheatre capability.

General Cassidy: We have to be able to move and react to fighting situation. The C-17 gives you that in the capability for the theater movement and you cant predict where that is going to be.

The competition doesnt compare!:
Rep. Dicks: One of the major points that I think needs to be pointed out is the number of fields in Europe that you can take the C- 17 to versus the [Air Forces cargo transport] C-5. I mean it is very substantial.

General Cassidy: It is very significant, a factor of five to one.

The experts love it!:
Rep. Dicks: Is there unity behind the C-17?

General Cassidy: This is the only program in DoD that has full service support and all the
Commanders in Chief support it.

Youve seen it advertised elsewhere for a fortune but were offering a low, low price!:
Rep. Dicks: There seems to be some confusion on the actual cost of the C-17. On January 24th in a Washington Post article headed Hard Time Ahead Over Hardware called the C-17 a (plane that costs an average of $483 million each when spare parts and hangar costs are included. General Cassidy: The unit fly-away cost of the airplane as we consider it in then-year dollars is less than $125 million a copy.

Of course, had this been a real infomercial, the FTC would have prosecuted Dicks and Cassidy for false advertising. The planes design was defective, the military had to reduce its performance specifications three times, and its cost soars (each C-17 is now slated to cost $300 million). As all of these facts made it into the press the months after this hearing, then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney announced that the military would buy 40 C-17s instead of the originally planned 210. He then fired one general an accepted the resignations of two others in charge of the program. But at that point the military had already pumped billions into the program. As one former Office of the Secretary of Defense analyst put it, There were always voices in the Pentagon arguing that the C- 17 was too expensive and that there were cheaper alternatives, but nobody wanted to hear it.

A congressional hearing would seem an opportune place to listen, but as the House Appropriations C-17 hearing suggests, lawmakers are often more interested in rah-rahing programs and agencies than in thoroughly investigating them. Shameless pork politics? In part. If the C-17 gets built, after all, thats jobs and federal dollars for someones district. If youre a legislator and those dollars are headed to your home district, why ask tough questions? When members feel compelled to bring home the bacon, letting them do the watchdogging is like asking Dead Heads to guard the medicine cabinetit puts duty at cross purposes with instinct. Lawmakers vie for federal dollars, which can help them keep their own jobs, at the same time that they are supposed to find out when those dollars are being wasted.

But more often Congress negligence comes from a far less craven impulsethe urge to get along. Theres tremendous pressure for us to not criticize other, says Rep. Scott Klug, a second term member from Wisconsin. Theres pressure not to kick somebody in the shin that you might have to work with tomorrow. The problem is that when it comes time to push for legislation that is dear to them, legislators need all the friends they can muster. One quick way to lose friends is to perform the sort of tough oversight that ends infusions of dollars to home states and districts. In other words, theres no reason to dig hard even when the dollars are heading for your colleagues constituentscolleagues who later might take a dim view of your favorite program, as well-intentioned and essential for the commonweal as it might be. Its tellingand alarmingthat Rep. Dicks does not hail from southern California, where the C-17 is made. Hes from Washington state, home of Boeing, also a major defense contractor, leading unsympathetic observers to allege that Dicks ardor for the plane was simply back-scratching for his-two Golden State committee partners, gentlemen whom he might need to call on someday to return the favor.

So Congress poor oversight track record isnt so much a scandal about greed and thievery as it is the inevitable result of asking legislators to both make laws and see them implemented. But the Hills prevailing ethos of Ill ignore that if you sign on to this has a price. It helps explain why Congress fails to stave off not just high profile catastrophes like the S&L collapse, but quieter outrages as well: that one out of five dollars spent by the government goes for overhead; that one third of the $200 million spent by Superfund went to paperwork; that there is person in government called the Federal inspector of the Alaskan Natural Gas Pipeline earning $115,300 even though no such pipeline exists.

Congress is given plenty of resources to ferret out these kinds of failures. The House and Senate have an elaborate network of 247 committees and subcommittees run by a total of 3,400 staffers to divvy up the work. And these folk arent idle: In the past 16 years House committees alone have held a total of 54,034 hearings or roughly 20 each day the chamber was in session. Theres also a kennel of accountants and investigators in the General Accounting Office which can be sicked on any subject, not to mention Inspectors General in the agencies themselves whose findings can be used to pursue queries.

But the Hill has been so ineffectual with these tools that few people even realize that regularly appraising...programs is actually o of Congress duties. Most legislators are simply wary of asking the tough questions that could make government work. To understand how this wariness affects even courageous members, take a look at what pressures naturally spin out from the committee system a Hill culture.

Unnatural Disasters:
To begin with, theres the workload. Consider Ted Kennedy, who is the chairman of four committees and a member of six others. Enough keep him ricocheting around the chamber, right? But look at what just one of those jobs entails As chairman of the Labor and Human Resource committee, Kennedy is the Senates point ii for the Department of Health and Human Services, an agency with 127,000 employees, annual budget of $641 billion and 250 differ national health an programs. Keep an eye on HHS would take six packs of Jolt Cola and late nights for even the most committed workaholic. Kennedy may be equal to task, but its hard to believe he could be with slighting the roughly 220 hearings held last by the nine other committees on which he sits. And the more jurisdictions you control, And the senior lawmaker from Massachusetts isnt unusual. Most senators have the same amount on the plate; House members slightly less.

Then theres the baffling way that the committees divide their work. Most agencies and subjects are scrutinized by a number of committees In some cases this simply leads to stasis. Tort reform, for instance, is the domain of both the Judiciary committee and the Energy and Commerce committeethe former likes the idea, the latter has opposed it and virtually nothing has been done on the subject because of the split of opinion. Other times, overlapping jurisdictions lead to fights that ruin legislation. The House Ways and Means committee and the House Education and Labor committee, for instance, both have a hand in student loans, and in the recent tug of war on Clintons proposed overhaul of the system, a crucial component of itallowing the IRS to collect paymentsgot dropped.

The one thing a system like this is unlikely to draft legislation and make wish lists of what produce is rigorous oversight. With lines of authority hopelessly splintered and members too overextended to focus on one subject, accountability dwindles to the bare minimum. The standard explanation for this muddled network is that it grew up gradually and has failed to change with the times. But twice in the past two Appropriations, to name a fewwith the kind decades Congress has formedwhat else?a committee to rationalize the system, and aside from very slightly reducing the number of members assignments, neither made lasting changes. The Hill is trying it again this year with something called the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, but an advanced copy of the groups recommendations shows that improving oversight is virtually its last priority. (Formed in the wake of the House Post Office scandal, its focus is improving Congress ethical image.)

What gives? The simplest explanation is that the committee system isnt about enhancing government, it is about congressmen broadening whats known on the Hill as that four letter word t-u-r-f. The more committees you sit on, the larger number of jurisdictions you have control over, says Rutgers political scientist Ross Baker, a former staffer on the House Rules committee. And the more jurisdictions you control, the more resources you can extract on behalf of constituents and interest groups. Being able to extract more resources also means youre better positioned to bargain and push for your own agenda.

Thats why the least popular committeesGovernment Operations in the House and Government Affairs in the Senateare the two which exclusively perform oversight. Those investigations just might turn up something that could make life unpleasant for past and future allies. There are oversight subcommittees in other committees but their work has been extremely uneven. Today, only a few legislatorsmost notable John Dingell of the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of Energy and Commercehave earned reputations as strong and thorough overseers. Its far easier, and more comfortable, to make a name as a participant in deals rather than as a spoiler of them.

So the episodic melees for the best slots invariable center on the big dollar outfits. Those tend to be the authorizing committees (which draft legislation and make wish lists of what funding agencies and their programs should receive), and appropriations committees (which study the budgets and write the checks). Last years crowd of freshmen fought for these choice spotsPublic Works and Transportation, Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Appropriations, to name a fewwith the kind of elbow-throwing that gets hockey players suspended and fined. In one three way braw, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York even enlisted the help of a rabbi. Two years ago, Republican Arthur Ravenel threatened to become a Democrat if party elders didnt give him his first choice.

For those not on a high powered committee, next best is getting on as many low powered committees as possible. This is how the fracturing of agency oversight happens. Smaller committees want as much federal acreage as they can get, so they look for reasons that they should be lords of one part of a given agency.

The results of this are obvious in, for instance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the peoples who are supposed to provide relief after earthquakes, floods, and nuclear accidents. No fewer than 15 committees and 23 subcommittees have a hand in the agency: Food and shelter falls to several committees, fire prevention to several others, disaster response to several others, and so on. FEMA is a tiny agency, with an annual budget of $983 million, so at first this looks like 100 congressmen in a rugby scrum over an Oreo. But once an earthquake or a flood happens, FEMA hits the emergency appropriations lottery. After Hurricane Andrew swept through Florida, FEMA was suddenly working with $11 billion and a spate of Congressional committees were prepositioned to direct where that money went.

For all that Capitol Hill involvement, FEMAs post-Andrew performance simplyby now, famously complemented al disaster with a man-made one. The clear solution was to make one committee responsible for the whole agency. Yet no restructuring occurred. FEMAs work in the summers Midwest floods got higher marksthey managed to get checks to more people soonerbut the agency still serves nearly two dozen different masters.

Beef Jerks:
While most members use committees to enhance the prospects of their own bills and programs, others use their assignments to enhance their prospects for reelection. Most commonly, this means vying for committees important in the state or the home district. Those, for instance, with local high-tech businesses push for the Space, Science, and Technology committee. Those living near port areas try to get on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. What often results is a group of like-minded lawmakers keeping tabs on agencies who, in turn, are keeping tabs on powerful --and generous--industries with PAC dollars that might be crucial to members at election time.

Enough to make you sick? Well, sometimes it does. The Department of Agriculture is supposed to inspect the meat industry, but its also meant to promote the meat industry. The pro-consumer side of this contradictory mission isnt much enhanced by the House and Senate Agriculture committees, whose members all hail from states like Texas(lots of cattle), or Arkansas (chicken), and Vermont (milk) where agricultural business interests are major players. The chairman of the House subcommittee on Department Operations and Nutrition is Charles Stenholm of Texas, who, according to a Public Citizen book, They Love to Fly . . . And it Shows, was given no fewer than 37 plane tickets and $38,000 in honoraria in 1990 by agriculture business interests. His committee colleagues fared nearly as well. The top 13 recipients of agribusiness plane tickets and honoraria178 of the former, $167,000 in the latter were on the House and Senate Agriculture committees.

Not surprisingly, these folks havent done much about the six to eight million cases of food borne illness reported in the United States each year, some 9,000 of which result in death, and 80 percent of which can be traced to bad meat or chicken. Hearings on this subject generally have a Shirley Temple, look-on-the-bright side tone. This vapid cheerfulness got downright bizarre in the wake of the Jack-in-the-Box hamburger deaths in early 1993. Congress reigning beef czar, E. (Kika) de la Garza of Texas ($22,000 in honoraria in 1990), breezed into a hearing on the subject primarily to perform a rear guard action on behalf of the industry.

He stated his thesis:

I just have a couple short questions. One, I have been saying we have the safest food in the world of the major industrialized countries of the world. Am I right or am I wrong?

Then he tried to pin the Jack-in-the-Box incident on Canada:

Now, recently, one of my colleagues who chairs a subcommittee on another committee made a statement that beef had come through Canada and that this may have caused what happened in Washington State.

Then he restated his thesis:

My time is up, but I keep saying that we have the safest, we have the best food inspection system in the world.

Then he left. Not surprisingly, theres been no improvement in the USDAs meat inspection system since then.

The price of this kind of coziness is sometimes measured in dollars rather than deaths. The S&L bailout, for instance, would have cost significantly less than $300 billion had friendly congressmen, especially those on financial regulatory committees, not exerted pressure on regulators to keep so many ailing thrifts alive. The former committee chairman, Fernand St. Germain, got so chummy with the S&Ls that his first job after losing his seat was lobbying for the thrifts on the Hill.

The ex-Representative from Rhode Island was following a common career path. According to CongressDaily, 4O.percent of the members turned out by the 1992 elections have started or joined consulting firms. . . signed on with Washington-based law firms, trade associations, interest groups, and corporate lobbying offices. Which, naturally, provides just another reason to beg off oversight. Why dig hard if you might one day want to work for these people?

Acts of Decency:
Members neednt be as rapacious as St. Germain to lose interest in oversight. In fact, whats most insidious about the Hill is that it can change even those with genuine good government fire in their bellies. How? Imagine youre the freshman representative from Michigan, and because you are smart, decent and driven to do good, you draft a bill that will both balance the budget and end hunger in all 50 states. You call it the Decency Act of 1993, and you set about lobbying for it. Meanwhile, youre determined to weed out all the waste, fraud, and abuse you can find as the newest member of the Houses Rural Enterprise, Exports and the Environment subcommittee. You pep talk a couple staffers and send them looking for scandals to unearth and millions of tax dollars to save.

Just as the Decency Act is garnering signatures, those staffers come back to you with a couple of real scams, the kind that make you seethe, the kind that you came to Washington to end. You listen to the details with fists clenched and teeth gnashing.

Then you feel a sharp pain in your stomach.

You notice that those incriminating letters and checks your staffers photocopied were headed to some very familiar addresses, namely the home states, maybe even the home districts, of the very folks youve been trying to sign on to your bill. Sure, youve got some solid proof of kickbacks and book-cooking, but going public with it would mean ending programs important to some would-be co-signers. So you face a tough choice. You can either forge ahead with your investigation and fight like hell to save taxpayers some money, or you can look the other way and win acolytes for the Decency Act. By the way, you might not win the investigation fight, and itll surely make you a pariah in any number of future deals. And anyway, your bill is a wonderful idea and come to think of it, itd look pretty damn good in that next mailing and, well, you and the missus are beginning to like Washington and. . . .

You get the picture. I know lots of situations where committee staffers have snooped around and found stuff and their boss showed no interest in it, says Franidin Silbey, formerly an investigator with the Senates Labor and Human Resources committee. When you do it right, theres the risk of stepping on someone elses bunions. Theres the risk of stepping on someone elses t-u-r-f.

Gregory Rushford learned this the hard way. In 1977, Rushford became a staff investigator with the then second-term senator from Missouri, Tom Eagleton. (Rushford, for the record, had been recommended for the job by the editor-in-chief of this magazine, an admirer of Eagle-tons.) In a first person account for the Monthly, Rushford described his travails when he and his boss searched for a subject to investigate. Just about every subject seemed to encroach on some member Eagleton couldnt afford to anger. Finally, the two decided. to look into Food for Peace, an Agency for International Development-administered program that sold food on easy terms to other countries.

Rushford knew that in 1976 a committee headed by Hubert Humphrey found that half of the $50 million in rice, wheat and soybean oil sent by Food for Peace to Bangladesh had been lost to insects, rodents, and mold due to inadequate storage facilities. Rushford quickly learned the cause: Twice as much rice was landing on the docks as the Bangladeshis could safely store. Why? Because a couple of congressmen from rice-producing states had lobbied the White House in 1976 to increase rice exports. One of those states was Arkansas, home to Senator John McClellan, the Chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. McClellan had recently granted Eagleton membership on this powerful committee, and so Rushford had early on been instructed not to come up with anything that might anger John McClellan. Further nosing around Food for Peace only turned up other ways for Eagleton to annoy his colleagues. Within a few months, Eagleton fired Rushford, explaining that he just wasnt comfortable with him. An administrative assistant explained to Rushford, I guess youre too much the investigative type.

TV Winners:
The press, for its part, doesnt inspire the Eagletons of Congress by covering, and thereby encouraging, rigorous oversight. What creates press interest are the sensational, scam du jour hearings. With uncanny circularity, the ideas for these hearings usually come right from the newspapers which cover them, and generally they are hurrumphing, headline-generating productions that have little to do with discovering why programs arent working. Also popular is the seasonal hearing. Here the committees win clippings by addressing a topic timely enough to create its own news peg. Take, for example, a recent joint committee hearing on violence in TV video gamesjust in time for holiday shopping.

The most consistent attention-winning method is drafting new legislation, something most congressman far prefer to checking up on laws that already exist. The House Energy and Commerce committee, for instance, has a hand in something close to 65 percent of all legislationits purview spans billions in programs ranging from telecommunications to insurance to national energy strategy. With so much at stake its worrisome to learn that the committee has only 25 staffers, not one of whom is nosing around programs already up and running.

New legislation wins wider glory, and its also more fun. Getting to the truth about a given program or agency takes energy, determination, and a willingness to wade through documents and detail. Agency heads dont arrive on the Hill and confess their sins. In fact, they tend to wax operatic about a crack squad of bureaucrats delivering unsurpassed efficiency and progress. Sometimes they simply lie, more often they just offer a novel take on the truth. Pentagon procurement officials like to lard testimony with so much inscrutable arcana that legislators either keel from boredom or are flummoxed into silence.

Bearing up under this onslaught and being willing to dig out counter-evidence requires not just time and energy but a group of staffers who know where to look. Dingell and other serious overseers hire veteran investigators with strong backgrounds in special subjects and the instincts of investigative reporters. But too many others are young and new to the subjects theyre supposed to keep an eye on. One National Academy of Public Administration study concluded that High staff turnover and lack of staff experience on Capitol Hill in many of the complex and technical areas exacerbate the difficulties of oversight. In large part thats because congressional jobs are now widely viewed as a launching pad for careers rather than a venue for public service. But members, especially the many committee chairmen, deserve the lions share of the blame for hiring these people in the first place and then falling to push them to do oversight. Its up to chairmen to decide how much time, effort, and resources are going to go into investigations and whether or not to take people on, says Rep. Dan Glickman of Kansas. And few want to because oversight is complex and it isnt sexy.

Congress myopia, love of publicity as well as its media-dependence are showcased in scandals like the Iran-contra. In June of 1985, the Miami Herald ran a story entitled U.S. Found to Skirt Ban on Aid to Contras which described a meeting between Oliver North and a contra official. The article caused nary a ripple on the Hill until The New York Times and The Washington Post picked it up. The House Intelligence Committee headed Lee Hamilton, then lumbered into action by calling in North and simply asking him if the charges were true. The ex-marine firmly denied everything and the issue was dropped. Sending a staffer to Central America might have clarified matters, but Hamilton later said that his committee couldnt afford the trip. Rep. Michael Barnes, then chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of House Foreign Affairs made his own half-hearted investigative stab by writing Robert McFarlane, head of the National Security Council, and demanding to review documents on Norths contra contacts. McFarlane knew legislators only too well. He replied that Barnes could see the material but would have to read it himself. Barnes wanted to send an aide, McFarlane stood firm, and again the issue was dropped.

Ultimately, Norths penchant for funnelling money to contras was simply a case of the executive branch breaking a lawin this case, the Boland Amendmentwhich ,Congress had failed to enforce. The Iran-contra hearings we eventually got were vintage Congress: a media-driven orgy of spleen-venting and speechifying which happened well after anything could be done to prevent the crime.

Plane Speaking:
Oversight of the preemptive sort is rare on the Hill, but its ingredients are hardly a mystery, and when it works right it can perform miracles. The paradigm is Harry Trumans investigation of military contracting fraud during World War II. David McCulloughs 1992 Truman biography recounts that as the military signed billions in contracts, rumors of profiteering reached the then senator from Missouri, prompting Truman to do something unimaginable in todays Washington: He got in his car and drove. Logging some 10,000 miles by himself, Truman visited a variety of army installations and defense plants, revealing his identity only when asked. In one fort, he found as he put it, hundreds of men just standing around collecting their pay, doing nothing. Returning to the Capitol, he hired some savvy investigators, organized a set of hearings, and examined crooked and deficient contractors one at a time.

With the country beginning to mobilize, the political mood was not conducive to asking tough questions about how the military was spending money. But Truman knew such questioning couldnt be more timely and he sent his tiny staff directly to factories to learn first hand what was happening. A typical discovery was a rolling mill selling the Navy dangerously inferior grade steel., the kind that cracks when you use it to build ships. The president of that company J. Lester Perry, had little luck hair-splitting his way through a question and answer session with two members of the committee:

Perry: I still insist that it [the steel] was not inferior for the end use to which it was put...

Sen. Ferguson: In other words, you are the man who is stating what you think the government should buy?

Perry: No, sir.

Sen. Ferguson: Then why dont you live up to the government specifications?

Perry: We should.

Sen. Ferguson: Why didnt you?

Perry: We will.

Sen. Truman: Ill say you will.

A different tone from the Dicks/Cassidy love-in. By 1943, estimates were that the committee had saved the country $15 billion, a rough guess since Trumans real effect was deterring fraud before it could do damage. As McCullough points out, fear of investigation caused innumerable contractors to clean up their act before their act got examined.

There are modern and smaller-scaled analogues to this triumph. Ironically, one of them is the C-17. As the rest of Congress pumped money into the program, two investigators at House Government Operations, a committee which is chaired by Rep. John Conyers, began to study it.

Both Joe Serincioni and Erik Thorsen were well versed in defense issuesthe latter had spent four years in the Pentagon. They knew where to look, what questions to ask, and which documents to demand. When the Pentagon refused to hand over something, Conyers subpoenaed it. When the House Armed Services committee squawked, Conyers ignored it. A parade of witnesses were called to the carpet and third-degreed. Heres Conyers with Colonel Kenneth Tollefson, the Air Forces defense plant representative at McDonnell Douglas, as Tollefson tries to put a happy spin on a 98 page document the company had given the Air Force in 1990. The document listed the C-17s problems:

Rep. Conyers: Wait a moment. But 98 pages of what?

Tollefson: Of waivers, deviations or work that would be carried forward at Edwards and completed there.

Rep Conyers: Some pretty serious?

Tollefson: Serious, I guessI am prepared...

Rep Conyers: We have the documents. Some pretty serious.

Through it all, military officials concealed facts and constantly lied about meetings and money. The dust is still settling on this affair, but the press reports that sparked Cheney to reduce the total C-17 buy and get rid of three generals were the direct result of Thorsen and Serincionis work.

The Truman and Conyers successes share two critical similarities. First, both men, thanks to the press, made a name for themselves through their oversight work. Trumans hearings, in fact, landed him on the cover of Time, made him a national political figure, and helped him become Roosevelts vice president. But this kind of notoriety is altogether too rare, especially for members conscientious enough to do legislative oversight. The press isnt interested in the yeomans work of ensuring that programs are functioning as promised, and so the yeomen that do it dont win the fame that their colleagues drafting new legislation or holding splashy hearings can often count on.

In 1979, for instance, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation noticed that the Federal Aviation Administration was foot-dragging on its promise to install a new mid-air collision traffic alert system. Chairman Howard Cannon lit a fire under the FAA by setting a precise timetable for implementing the system. The agency became, as a National Academy of Public Administration report put it vitally concerned with the project, and significantly accelerated implementation of the system. Ideally that sort of quiet congressional intervention would win lawmakers the lasting adoration of America, but Cannon was known only in Washington and his home state of Nevada, and in those places only as a conservative Democrat with a nerdy streak. We need more Howard Cannons, but its unlikely well get many until the press ballyhoos his methods. One of the Hills favorite committee reform proposalsrequiring each committee to publish an oversight agendamight work like a charm if the media made a point of holding chairmen to it, noting those who failed, and praising those who succeeded.

Secondly, both Truman and Conyers were on committees dedicated exclusively to oversight. Their reputations were staked on whether money was saved and programs were working. Removing the standard, built-in conflict of interest that bedevils other committees might result in the same kind of successes. For as long as a single committee is supposed to both write checks and perform oversight, oversight will get slighted. Real reform would require that Congressmen focus on one or two subjects. Then it would strip oversight functions from appropriating and authorizing committees (most of their time is taken up with writing budgets anyway) and establish more committees dedicated solely to oversight. This wouldnt require more c3mmit-tees if you followed Senator Nancy Kassebaums excellent suggestion of merging appropriations and authorizing committees and using the left over resources to set up more oversight.

These steps will mitigate the problem, not eliminate it. Congressional oversight is one of those messy, tight corners of democracy because it necessarily gives lawmakers two radically different, virtually contradictory roles. The right restructuring and a press that covers what counts would, however, increase our odds of resolving that conflict in a way that benefits everyone, not just narrow special interests and certain home districts. It will go a long way toward producing more Trumans and fewer infomercials.

David Segal, The Washington Monthly/January/February 1994

Funding of elections by business has produced a parliament of whores



The account of how Congress through its appropriation power and use of committees runs our bureaucracy and guides the production of contractors is revealed in the example of McDonnell Douglas C-17, the giant military cargo transport plane. Over and over gain on programs such as "60 Minutes" we learn of Congress failures in the area of supervision. David Segals article exposes its mechanism.


1. Each branch of the military is seeking a bigger chunk of the federal budget. They thus exaggerate the need, effectiveness, and costs of weapon systems. Since they don't control the purse strings

2. Like the military, contractor also exaggerate the costs and effectiveness and delivery date of the system they are developing.

3. Congressmen have objectives which are inconsistent with their role of regulating the working of government

a. Many of those on the committee have a vested interest in funding programs good for the industry they are regulating, because that industry is a major employer in their district/state.

b. Those who lobby for an industry as well as individual corporations are permitted to make substantial election contributions. Those who pay the piper select the tune.

c. Congressmen are more concerned with getting into the press than performing their oversight duties.

d. Hearings resemble product commercials, rather than investigation of expenditures.

e. Peer pressure to get along.

f. Back scratching; VIZ., I vote for your bill, you vote for mine.

g. Industries are permitted to make donations to them for reelection, to given them plane tickets, honoraria, and other gifts.

h. As long as a single committee is supposed to provide funding and oversight, then any exposure of abuse smears themselves (who do the funding).

The political realities give Congress a different agenda. There are 247 committees and 127,000 staff employees. Each Congressman sits on several committees. Most of the efforts of this staff has little to do with exposing and correcting the problems connected to the function of the particular oversight committee.

Given that over half of the work time a Congressman spends is in activites related to getting votes, there is little time left for the several committes they belong to, other than attending their meatings and reading prepared statements into the record (JK's addition).

Since the military does not control the purse strings, they tend to work with the contractors in their deceptions rather than to expose them, for to expose them could result in the cutting of funding for a weapons system.

Congress role should be to obtain the best possible armament for the percentage of the federal budget so allocated, and in particular to serve the best interests of all the people within the traditionally established limits.

Things have changed since the World War Two. The press is much less interested in exposure of abuse in government--measured by television news content. Exposing abuse is thus not nearly so effective in producing name recognition, as it was in Truman's time. And being not so effective entails that, as per re-elction, the rewards are less.

If there lips are moving they are lying.  

The one thing you can be sure that they stand for, is to get elected.


If there lips are moving they are lying (said of politician)

To understand developments in our political system (both parties) one must understand the role of neoliberalism.  Any analysis which misses this connection is grossly inadequate.  (Neocons follow neoliberalism economic policies). 


We have an evil, evil system. Words such as imperialism, greed, corporate greed, neoliberalism, neoconservate, globalism, bought politicians, control of media are descriptive.   There are reasons why the labor movement has collapsed.  It is the politics of neoliberalism, an out growth of corporate greed.  Given how it opposes the public weal, we have devoted a section to expose just what neoliberalism is—a thing that the five corporations which own broadcasting will not do. 



Things have gotten worse, the hole the neocons has dug is much deeper.  The economic stats are worse than bad:  the trend is toward greater disparity of wealth and on top of that the U.S. is loaded with debt and imbalance of trade.  The debt can through fiscal austerity can be paid off (as some of it was under Clinton), but the trade imbalance will only grow due to the dismantling of are industrial base and the setting up of free trade agreements such as NAFTA.   The current foreign debt is equaled to over 70% of GDP, a ratio unmatched by far among industrialized nations.  To find out what economics is called the dismal science and the role of neoliberalism.