The House returns tomorrow to begin a new session. Democrats have announced they'll push an ambitious legislative agenda in the first 100 hours, but some people -- us, of course, and many of our readers -- are eager to see congressional investigations kick off a new era of more involved oversight. Well, I hear we're all going to have to wait a while for those fireworks to begin. Just like the Fourth of July, the parade comes first.
"People shouldn't expect oversight hearings right out of the gate," one Democratic Hill insider told me today. While some, like incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden (D-DE), are planning immediate oversight hearings -- in Biden's case, on Iraq -- it will be several weeks or months before most panels will have significant new findings to release.
"It has surprised me how much of a dragged-out process this has been," said the insider, referring to the length of time it has taken many oversight operations to add staff and develop their agendas. He didn't believe disorganization was to blame. Rather, it has taken time for leadership in the House and Senate to determine budgets for the committees. "Until people knew what their budgets were, they wouldn't know what their staffing would be."
As a result, when the curtain rises on the 110th Congress, some committees are reportedly still interviewing for new investigations staff.
Also, investigations take time. "You need a little foreplay," one D.C. watchdogger familiar with the congressional oversight process told me, on the condition of anonymity.
And some committees will be quicker on the draw than others. "The committees where you have more collegiality [between the chairs and ranking members] you're going to see more results faster," he said. The House Government Reform Committee, led by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Tom Davis (R-VA), was one example he cited. Senate Armed Services, led by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) was another. Both incoming chairmen have stated their desire to investigate Iraq-related issues.
While some committees are "locked and loaded" for investigating the administration, he said, others aren't. Privately, some observers have said some Democrats were surprised by their November victory and hadn't done the planning necessary to move quickly to staff up committee leadership offices and develop oversight agendas.