The Atlantic’s Michelle Cottle makes clear that she thinks Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s Oversight Committee has spent too much time investigating the Obama administration over Benghazi, Hillary’s email server, etc., but grudgingly acknowledges that in the end Chaffetz is “doing the Lord’s work” by improving government.
Chaffetz vigorously defends even his committee’s most inflammatory work. “We had one of the largest breaches of security at the State Department in the history of the department,” he told me. “Years of federal records that walked out the door. That has to be fixed. Forget who created this breach.”
Of course, it can be tough to forget the political side of these probes when every so often a lawmaker lets his partisan flag fly–as when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy boasted last September that the Benghazi probe had succeeded in hurting Clinton’s “numbers.”
All of which is a shame. Because while some of Congress’s flashier oversight crusades reek of politics, the committees are in many ways doing the Lord’s work. It’s just that no one hears much about the not-so-sexy, not-so-partisan probes that actually seek to improve government.
“No doubt there have been some abuses by some committees,” said Danielle Brian, head of the independent watchdog group the Project On Government Oversight (more adorably known as POGO). “But it’s unfair to paint them with a broad brush.”
Brian joined POGO more than three decades ago and has been executive director since 1993. Over the years, she has watched Congress lose its “institutional perspective” and become more partisan in its approach to oversight. “They’ve turned into either cheerleaders for the administration if they are in the same party or attackers if they are in the other party.”
The knee-jerk tribalism can turn even legitimate investigations into political circuses, acknowledged Brian. “The best example was Fast and Furious. The Department of Justice was inappropriately withholding information from the Congress, and it ended up becoming a totally partisan inquiry when it didn’t need to be.”
That said, Brian stressed that the bulk of congress’s oversight work isn’t so incendiary and tends to take place away from the cameras. “There are ongoing investigations that are in many cases bipartisan and are very constructive. They are just a little bit too boring for the public to be aware that they’re happening.”