Talking heads from the left and right had low expectations for the new House Republican majority in January. The majority was slender, and the GOP had failed to take the Senate. The House went deep into extra innings to finally agree on a speaker. So the general assumption was that we would see mostly feckless hand-wringing from them.
To his credit, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy chose some strong people to lead key committees. None stronger than Rep. James Comer, the Kentucky Republican who became chairman of the House Oversight Committee. He and his team are shining light on dark matters that desperately needed genuine oversight. Mr. Comer has that one indispensable quality: He is fearless. He can stare down even the nastiest of CNN commentators. It is only a matter of time before he is recognized as one of the most influential players in our nation’s capital.
Mr. Comer realized the important role he can play using his oversight authority to investigate, subpoena, and ultimately stop beltway careless, costly and (dare we say) corrupt activities. The new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is doing exactly that, to an astonishingly effective degree.
Case in point: For years, Republicans have tried and failed to get the Biden family to acknowledge their tight business relationships with China. But just days ago, Mr. Comer made it happen.
After years of denying the obvious, Hunter Biden’s lawyers — pressured by a Comer-issued subpoena — coughed up the truth last week: The Biden family business received a $3 million wire transfer from a Chinese energy company shortly after Hunter’s father left the vice presidency in 2017. A large chunk of it was dispersed to family members days later.
Mr. Comer’s investigators discovered bank records showing that Hunter Biden’s associate Rob Walker transferred north of $1.3 million in 2017 not only to the usual suspects, Hunter and now-President Biden’s brother James, but also to his daughter-in-law and a curious unknown recipient simply tagged as “Biden.” Could “the Big Guy” have received 10% of the proceeds? The Comer team will surely keep digging in that vein.
Mr. Comer’s critics may accuse him of using his authority only to embarrass political adversaries and score partisan points. If they are embarrassed or even ultimately indicted, it is because of their deeds. He is also using it to expose and eradicate government waste and inefficiency in ways that can make the federal bureaucracy more accountable than it’s been in decades.
Mr. Comer is holding the Department of Homeland Security accountable for continuing to issue multimillion-dollar anti-competitive no-bid contracts. These contracts don’t meet federal contracting standards. They appear to help advance the Biden administration’s political agenda and perhaps line the pockets of former Biden staffers. What a surprise!
For example, DHS recently issued an $87 million sole-source contract that didn’t comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement standards to a group run by a former Biden adviser and ICE official. It spent $17 million of this $87 million on hotel rooms for border crossers, most of which went unused since ICE has its own family and residential centers.
Sensing that this administration has been exploiting the border crisis to reward its political allies, Mr. Comer has demanded a trove of documents and communications related to these no-bid contracts in hopes of ending them for good. The inspector general has already sided with the chairman on this matter. Once he obtains those DHS documents, he may have the smoking guns needed to stop potentially corrupt handouts once and for all. That’s a big win for taxpayers and border security advocates as well.
Mr. Comer is even holding hearings that take aim at one of the most unpopular and inefficient agencies in the federal government, the Office of Personnel Management.
Think of the bloated and inefficient federal bureaucracy. The OPM is the epicenter. It’s supposed to oversee hiring and managing large parts of the federal workforce. Mr. Comer thinks it’s time to look under the hood and see how they’ve been doing. Preliminary reports look pretty ugly.
While most of the public has returned to work post-COVID, OPM hasn’t required that much of the federal workforce do the same. As a result, 2 in 3 federal employees haven’t come back. This has resulted in significant casework backlogs and ultra-slow governmental response times. Mr. Comer also uncovered information suggesting that OPM carelessly awards $1 billion to $3 billion in benefits to ineligible federal contractors annually. That’s a great deal for the swamp creatures in Washington, but a raw one for those of us who pay the freight.
Mr. Comer’s aggressiveness is already paying dividends. OPM understands that it’s on watch. It also knows if it doesn’t comply with generally accepted rules and accounting practices, this chairman may push to have the private sector take over much of the agency’s work. Imagine that.
As a former member of the Government Reform Committee, I cannot overstate how pleased I am to see Mr. Comer boldly using his committee’s power to advance the causes of accountability and limited government. Thanks to his leadership, the GOP is making a big difference even without senatorial and executive branch control. His tenacity is slowly but surely bringing accountability, transparency and market principles back to the Beltway. For that, we should all be grateful.
• Gil Gutknecht is a former member of Congress from Minnesota, where he served on the Government Reform Committee. He has long been an advocate for greater government transparency.
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