Senate oversight committee could get a post-election face-lift

If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., decides to remove Lieberman, then Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., is most likely to take over as chairman. Carper, a moderate who is fourth in seniority among committee Democrats, leads the panel's Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security.

The Democrats ahead of Carper already hold committee chairmanships that they are unlikely to relinquish. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., is next in line after Lieberman, but Levin leads the Armed Services Committee. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, the third in seniority, chairs the Veterans' Affairs Committee. But a spokesman said Akaka still would consider his options for chairmanships in the next Congress, signaling that he might not be wedded to the Veterans' Affairs post.

Carper served two terms as governor of Delaware, and Light said his experience filling political appointments might make him sensitive to the need to get presidential nominees confirmed quickly. But Carper also will bring his own agenda.

"He'll pay attention to financial management issues, efforts to clean up federal reporting and information technology with regard to homeland security," said Light, who worked on the committee during the 100th Congress under former Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio. "It's a little bit of an open book on issues other than financial management and information technology."

The bills and amendments Carper introduced during the 110th Congress give some sense of the issues he might pursue as chairman. In keeping with his focus on information technology, he sponsored two bills to provide electronic records for Federal Employees Health Benefits Program participants (S. 1456 and S. 1490). He also sponsored legislation to strengthen information technology auditing and to designate separate chief information officer and chief information security officer positions (S. 3474).

In the financial management and procurement arenas, Carper introduced a bill to tighten standards for cost overruns on IT projects (S. 3384); an amendment to change the kinds of vehicles available for the federal fleet, which passed as part of the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization Act; a bill to test a program for speeding the sale of federal property (S. 1667); and legislation that would limit the U.S. Postal Service to awarding contracts for overseas mail delivery to certified air carriers (S. 3536).

The Postal Service contracting bill became law in 2008, and the IT contracting and security bills, the disability benefits bill, and the pilot program for federal property are all on the Senate legislative calendar. The electronic health records bills are awaiting action at the subcommittee level.

The Delaware senator has been somewhat less focused on personnel issues. He is not a frequent participant in hearings conducted by the panel's Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, though he is not alone; subcommittee leaders Akaka and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, often are the only attendees.

But Carper has introduced two personnel bills in the most recent Congress. The first would make it easier for federal firefighters to receive disability benefits (S. 1924), a major priority of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The second is an amendment that would improve training on certain kinds of contracting, which also passed as part of the Defense authorization act.
Union officials were reluctant to speculate about the potential effect of a change in committee leadership.

"Like Sen. Lieberman, Sens. Levin, Akaka and Carper have made it a priority to listen to and make every effort to address the major issues of importance to federal workers," said Matt Biggs, legislative director for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

Randy Erwin, legislative director for the National Federation of Federal Employees, predicted Carper would become the committee chairman, but said he could not comment further at the time. The National Treasury Employees Union declined to discuss the potential changes, and the American Federation of Government Employees did not respond to a request for comment.

It is also likely that there will be changes in the oversight panel's Republican membership. As many as five GOP members could leave the Senate either by retiring or losing competitive races. Sens. Pete Domenici of New Mexico and John Warner of Virginia are retiring, and their seats probably will be filled by Democrats, according to the Cook Political Report. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska is unlikely to keep his seat even if he wins reelection after being convicted on seven corruption charges. Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and John Sununu of New Hampshire are locked in races that the Cook Political Report deems too close to call.

Committee ranking member Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is running for reelection as well, but it is likely that she will keep her seat.

"The Republicans are going to have to come up to speed quickly," Light said. "They operate by unanimous consent, so it's not like you can roll the minority."

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