12 No-Brainer Govt. Fixes Congress Should Implement in 2010
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The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is submitting to Congress a number of actions it should take that would fix many of the systemic problems that have long plagued the federal government and that spurred POGO's creation 29 years ago. POGO submitted a similar list to Congress in 2007, and is pleased to report that Congress made progress addressing several of the issues we raised. For example, Congress has passed legislation to create a database that addresses federal contractor misconduct and established the Senate Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan that are trying to fix the broken federal contracting system.
But Congress has not adequately addressed many of the important issues we outlined three years ago. Despite the tireless efforts of a bipartisan group of Members, Congress has not passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. Nor has Congress reoriented its d efense spending priorities to the troops and national security mission rather than defense contractors, as evidenced by the numerous earmarks in the most recent defense appropriations bill, including $2.25 billion for the C-17 Globemaster airlifters the Department of Defense doesn't want. And because of such emergent problems as the financial crisis and the H1NI scare, additional issues have arisen that demand Congress's immediate attention.
The following are issues we believe Congress should address promptly:
1. Pass Whistleblower Protection Law
Frequently the first people to discover corruption and misconduct are federal employees. By seeking to fix the problems they uncover, these employees play a vital role in making sure the government is accountable and effective. Unfortunately, whistleblowers are almost always reprimanded, fired, and/or harassed instead of fêted, even if they have not "gone public" and even after their allegations are proven to be true. The federal Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 is grossly inadequate in protecting federal workers and government contractors who expose waste, fraud, and abuse from retaliation by their supervisors. Until federal employees can expose wrongdoing without fear of retaliation, they will lack the incentive to report wrongdoing.
Congress should immediately pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009 (H.R. 1507), the bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA) that creates strong, comprehensive federal whistleblower protections giving all federal employees and contractors a functional administrative process and access to trials.
2. Create an Independent Audit Agency
Auditors are on the front lines of rooting out wasteful spending in federal agencies. Experience has shown that increased funding for auditors ultimately results in greater savings for taxpayers, making it essential for these offices to have the funding, independence, staffing, and other resources they need to do their job. Unfortunately, investigations into the General Services Administration (GSA), Minerals Management Service (MMS) at the Department of the Interior, and the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) have found that auditors lack the independence from their agencies they need to effectively do their jobs. As a result, auditors' findings have been ignored or altered, and in some cases have resulted in retaliation or demotion.
Congress should consider establishing an independent federal contract audit agency. Until then, we hope that Congress provides rigorous oversight to ensure that agency heads allow auditors to operate independently, and warn them that officials who interfere with auditors' independence will be held accountable.
3. Improve Economic Recovery Efforts
Congress has committed $700 billion to the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in response to the subprime mortgage crisis and the ensuing freeze in the nation's credit markets. Additional entities such as the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) are also lending and guaranteeing trillions of dollars in public funds to encourage lending and to assist banks in dealing with mortgage-backed loans and securities. To ensure the success of these commitments, Congress must take additional action: