Maloney Takes On Oversight Committee Chairmanship at a Critical Time

J.SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

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“It’s an incredibly difficult time to forecast the role of oversight on Capitol Hill,” says one expert.

With the House impeachment investigation potentially wrapping up, the House Democratic Caucus voted last week to install Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., as the new House Oversight and Reform Committee chair following the death last month of former chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md. The 73-year-old Maloney takes the helm at a crucial time for many federal agencies.

“The question is where to begin in terms of focusing public attention on the very real problems that face government,” said Paul Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University.

Currently most of Congress’s work is “eclipsed by the impeachment investigation,” Light said, but once attention shifts away from impeachment, the oversight committee is poised to tackle any number of issues, including whistleblower protection, problems stemming from the high number of leadership vacancies across government, the administration’s efforts to reshape long-standing civil service protections, and other issues affecting federal workers and agency management

Other experts generally agreed.

“It’s an incredibly difficult time to forecast the role of oversight on Capitol Hill, especially for this committee. Will the impeachment inquiry generate more investigations, or will the coming vote tamp down enthusiasm for more investigative work, at least until after the election,” said Donald Kettl, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. “This committee plays the key role in defining the House’s approach to federal workforce issues. Just how important in the overall mix will these issues be for Rep. Maloney?”

Dan Blair, senior counselor at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former Office of Management and Budget deputy director and acting director, said Maloney has a chance to take a bipartisan approach to government performance. “As the new oversight chair, she can engage the committee members in bipartisan oversight of federal agencies and programs,” said Blair. “Systemic oversight of government performance is sorely needed if citizens’ trust in government is going to be rebuilt.”

Maloney has been on the committee since entering Congress in 1993 and became acting chair following the death of Cummings. Now she is the first woman to serve as oversight chair. 

In her bid to lead the committee, Maloney wrote to her colleagues, “As permanent chairwoman, I would support our caucus’ efforts to advance economic opportunities for all Americans, expand equality, strengthen the federal workforce, protect our census, combat climate change, champion women’s rights, improve government operations and services and more.” 

After she was selected to lead the committee, she wrote that she is “deeply humbled and grateful to my colleagues for entrusting me with the chairmanship” and “will do my best to follow the honorable example that Chairman Cummings left for us all.”