Democrat plans hearings this week to expose government waste, fraud

February 05, 2007|By Cox News Service

WASHINGTON -- After years of stockpiling findings and allegations, Rep. Henry A. Waxman will unleash four days of hearings this week aimed at exposing "waste, fraud and abuse" in government.

The new Democratic chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, who has a reputation as the most feared congressional inquisitor, is set to begin tomorrow by digging into the Bush administration's troubled program to rebuild war-torn Iraq.

Scheduled to be first on the hot seat is former Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, who oversaw the early reconstruction effort.

Waxman's outline for the hearing says that Bremer will be asked about allegations that the reconstruction agency he ran "filled positions with unqualified staff who were politically connected."

The oversight panel is also set to focus on private contractors hired to provide supplies for the U.S. military effort in Iraq, especially subcontractors working for Halliburton, the corporate giant once led by Vice President Dick Cheney.

A target later in the week is the Department of Homeland Security and its multibillion-dollar contracts to modernize the aging Coast Guard fleet and install a Secure Border Initiative network, or SBInet, to protect the nation's borders with a system of technology, cameras and sensors.

By Friday, the last of the opening barrage of Waxman hearings is to examine whether the pharmaceutical industry is bilking federal health programs by overcharging for prescription drugs.

Among those expected to testify is Patrick O'Connell, the Texas assistant attorney general who mobilized a team of lawyers to sue drug manufacturers for overcharging the Medicaid program.

The packed week of hearings is the product of the California congressman's pent-up desire to perform oversight, which had been restrained by a dozen years of Republican control of the House.

Now, with a staff that doubled from 40 to 80 positions, Waxman controls the agenda and the potential power of the subpoena.

A senior Bush administration official appeared to welcome the scrutiny.

"There cannot be enough accountability in the federal government," said Clay Johnson, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

He added that there is "very little real accountability" in federal operations.

In fact, many government auditors regularly churn out critical reports on federal programs and contractors.

But those reports have little effect "unless the Congress takes them on and does something with it," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a private watchdog group.

For the most part, she said, Congress has been ignoring government auditors, including inspectors general and the Defense Department's own contract agency.

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