Watchdog: Accountability

Claire McCaskill scares two agency heads, suggests they consolidate

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A Senate subcommittee is exploring consolidating some of the many tiny federal entities that are littered across the bureaucracy, and first on its list of targets are international programs, including the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the Overseas Private Investment Corp.

“We're going to continue to pursue, to the extent we can, consolidation of programs where it makes sense. Coming in from the outside as I did, I kind of went, ‘Wow, this is a labyrinth,' ” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat who chaired a hearing of the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight on Wednesday.

"One of the things that's really hard right now is the cynicism about government, that it can't do anything right, that it pretty much sucks."

Her staff compiled a chart of federal agencies active internationally, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. International Trade Commission, the Export-Import Bank and the Small Business Administration.

“Left to right is all these agencies and top to bottom is the responsibilities, and you see the X's all over the place. It’s a mess,” she said.

“Think about this for a minute and don’t immediately say no. What if we combined your agency with Ex-Im? Is there any real compelling reason they could not be combined?” she asked.

Leocadia Zak of USTDA responded by expressing hesitance at the idea, coupled by a faith in the president and asking Congress to support his budget.

“Unfortunately for the president, it's not up to him,” McCaskill said.

The Washington Examiner reported Dec. 10 that there are more than 100 miniscule federal entities operating outside the scope of Cabinet agencies.

They include entities like the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, the Surface Transportation Board, and the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, which is tasked “with identifying monuments, historic buildings, and cemeteries in Central and Eastern Europe associated with the heritage of Americans and obtaining assurances from the governments of the region that these sites will be protected.”

That's to make no mention of entities like the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, whose director used federal funds to buy artwork created by his wife and whose IT director shipped tens of thousands of dollars of high-end and seemingly unnecessary equipment such as big screen TVs to his personal residence and where employees billed cell phones for the entire family and top-notch TV packages to the feds.

The miniscule federal entities often lack the layers of scrutiny and accountability mechanisms present in the bigger departments and agencies.

Neither agency has an inspector general, a person assigned to rooting out inefficiencies and fraud.

“We have IGs in agencies that are frankly much smaller than yours,” McCaskill said. OPIC's president said following discussions with another Senate committee, it was pursuing adding an IG. USTDA's head said because of the size of the agency, it did not intend to.

Of course, adding such layers in a tiny agency rather than combining them can also add to bloat. Take the Postal Regulatory Commission, a 70-person agency with three full-timers assigned to investigating the other 67.

McCaskill said a goal was to achieve a government that is a manageable size but performs well at what it does.

“One of the things that’s really hard right now is the cynicism about government, that it can’t do anything right, that it pretty much sucks,” she said.

Explore the list of 150 agencies you've never heard of here.

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