GOP Congress Has Reduced Usual Diet of Agency Oversight
By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 5, 2005; Page A21
Four hurricanes had hit Florida in 2004, and the evidence was overwhelming that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had totally botched its response. Some of the hardest-hit counties, complained Florida lawmakers, were overlooked, while other counties out of harm's way had received lavish relief -- to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, much of it for damage that could not be documented.
Republican Reps. Katherine Harris and Mark Foley, along with other members of the Florida delegation, asked the two House committees with FEMA jurisdiction to hold hearings on what went wrong. "This, of course, is not just a Florida issue," the lawmakers wrote the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on March 3. "FEMA disaster assistance affects virtually every state."
The Florida debacle revealed serious deficiencies in FEMA operations and management, but when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit six months later, the committees still had not acted on the delegation's request.
It was a typical response for a Congress that has had little appetite in recent years for executive branch oversight. And now, as lawmakers probe FEMA's mistakes in responding to Katrina, they are waking up to the consequences of neglect.
Government scholars and watchdog groups say the decline of congressional oversight in recent years has thrown out of kilter the system of checks and balances the Founding Fathers created to keep no one branch of government from becoming too powerful. Whether the Pentagon or the Environmental Protection Agency, if a department does not think Congress is paying attention, it could be more apt to waste money or allow problems to go unaddressed.