Assuming no electoral catastrophe for the GOP, immediately after November’s midterm elections the House Republican Steering Committee will select the leaders of the various House committees. Ending a six-year term as chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is Darrell Issa of California, who has spearheaded the committee’s much-contested investigations of Operation Fast and Furious, the IRS, and Benghazi, among others. Given the rate at which the current administration produces scandals, a robust Oversight Committee, headed by a chairman willing to use its investigatory powers to hold the executive branch accountable, is a necessity for President Obama’s final two years. The Steering Committee’s choice should be Utah’s Jason Chaffetz.
Since his election to Congress in 2008, Chaffetz, who represents Utah’s staunchly Republican 3rd district, has made the work of the Oversight Committee his first priority. It was his preferred committee when he arrived in Congress, he has said, and it remains so: When Republicans jockeyed for leadership positions following Eric Cantor’s primary loss this spring, Chaffetz declined to endorse a candidate, informing colleagues that his sole aim was to head the Oversight Committee come November, and that he had no interest in alienating associates.
In the amount of time he devotes to the committee, Chaffetz has no equal, except perhaps Issa himself. Chaffetz’s competitors for the position — Mike Turner of Ohio and John Mica of Florida — have chosen to allocate much of their time elsewhere: to the Armed Services Committee, in Turner’s case, and in Mica’s to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which he chaired from 2011 to 2013. No doubt both would be capable leaders, but the Oversight Committee demands special attention.
Since it is the House body responsible for holding the federal bureaucracy in check, the duties of the Committee on Oversight require vigorous prosecution, especially under this law-stretching president. For that purpose, the chairman is granted the authority to unilaterally issue subpoenas, giving him unique power to compel testimony from government officials. Although that power as exercised by Issa has been regularly assailed by Democrats, the tendency of administration officials to keep tight-lipped despite obvious wrongdoing (e.g. Lois Lerner) and of Democrats to scoff at any investigation into this administration means that the next chairman must be willing to leverage the powers of the position fearlessly but judiciously.
We believe Chaffetz has the right judgment for striking this balance. He is a regular guest on radio and television, including the major Sunday-morning shows, and he has reliably made his arguments, not himself, the issue.
Finally, when it comes to Oversight and Government Reform, Republicans have been assertive about the former, but less so about the latter. Chaffetz believes, correctly in our view, that the committee ought to fulfill the duties indicated by both parts of its title. He hopes, for example, to develop a plan to increase security at American embassies abroad.
It is in the nature of government — especially one as massive and unwieldy as ours — to give rise to corruption, a phenomenon that has no party affiliation. Whoever is in the Executive Mansion, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is a key element of the system of checks and balances that works to expose and correct government malpractice. Jason Chaffetz is the best man to lead it, in what is sure to be a very busy two years.