- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

Rep. Henry A. Waxman’s oversight committee spent the week delving into government waste that ranged from spending in Iraq to federal drug program pricing — inquests Republicans say mainly provided entertainment but no legislative action.

Some of the hearings of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform were strictly “a show,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican on the panel.

He cited the hearing Wednesday with tearful testimony by family members of three civilian security workers killed and mutilated by a Fallujah mob in a widely televised attack in March 2004.

The families, who are pursuing a wrongful-death lawsuit against security contractor Blackwater USA, accused the firm of “war profiteering” and poorly equipping its bodyguards.

Mr. Issa said he hoped the committee would move beyond these hearings and make proposals to curb wasteful government spending, such as rewriting contracting and procurement rules.

But the initial hearings — including one focusing on criticism of how U.S. officials accounted for Iraqi money spent after the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein — rankled Republicans.

“So far it has been fairly polarizing along ideology lines,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, the committee’s ranking Republican. “This stuff gets so polarized so fast.”

He said he was ready to “enter a serious discussion” with Mr. Waxman about revising government contracting standards, issues he has worked on for years and where he said the government has made significant improvements since the 1980s.

“There is still a lot of waste that goes into the government business model,” Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Waxman, California Democrat and the committee’s chairman, has promised to continue the probes for the next two years, and yesterday at the hearing into accusations that drug companies overcharge Medicaid, Medicare and other federal health programs, he said the findings had set the stage for even more hearings.

“This committee will have an aggressive oversight agenda when it comes to pharmaceutical manufactures and other companies that engage in wasteful, fraudulent or abusive tactics that affect federal health care programs,” Mr. Waxman said.

“This testimony we hear today will help us establish additional investigative priorities for the next two years.”

Mr. Davis cautioned that the Democrat’s persistent call for “more transparency” in government contracting could produce more bureaucracy and more inefficiency that further squanders taxpayer dollars.

Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican, said the committee was conducting a “bash-and-dash” hearing Thursday that focused on errors in a $24 billion Homeland Security contract for a new U.S. Coast Guard fleet — problems revealed by a government audit in 2003.

He said Democrats were making a case to replace private contractors with more bureaucracy.

“The government is more effective than the private sector, that’s what I’m hearing from the other side,” Mr. Mica said. “I can’t believe it.”

Several Republicans requested proposals for corrective action from those testifying about contracting deficiencies, proposals that may be the subject of future hearings.

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