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Towns Promises Strong Oversight

By Ed O'Keefe

Some may wonder how aggressive the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and its Democratic majority will be in its oversight of agencies and departments run by a Democratic administration, but the panel's new chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) has no plans to sit back and turn a blind Eye.

Edolphus Towns
Rep. Edolphus Towns, right, promises strong oversight of agencies and departments under this Democratic administration. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

"Based on what [Obama is] saying and based on what I'm saying, I think it's going to work real well. He's talking about transparency, I'm talking about transparency," Towns said earlier today in an interview with The Eye. He said the transparency promised by the Obama administration should not only appear online.

"What happens is that sometimes we have policies and things that people can avail themselves of, but they really have no knowledge of it. We still have a lot of people in this country who don't have computers. How do we get information to them? They need to have it. In many instances, they're the ones who really need it."

In the opening weeks Towns expects the committee will focus on expanding the clout and independence of inspectors general.

"We want to strengthen them, because as it stands now, many of them really don't have the power, the clout that they should have. They begin to look at certain things within an agency and the director of the agency will say 'I don't want you to look at that.'" Towns said he hopes to speak with cabinet secretaries and other top government officials in the coming weeks about maintaining the independence of IGs. He also supports legislative efforts to maintain their independence.

As for the economic stimulus package, "[The House Committee on] Financial Services has the ultimate responsibility, but we also have a role as well," he said, when it comes to performance and management issues.

"We're in the processing of staffing up," he said later about the committee. "There a lot of good people out there. A lot of strong investigators. A lot of folks who've expressed an interest in working on this committee," he said, including Hill veterans, Justice Department employees and people with Wall Street experience.

Towns ascends to the chairmanship as his predecessor, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) takes over the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In the weeks before he took the top job, some congressional Democrats expressed concerns about Towns' age, health and commitment to the job, and other committees have moved in to oversee aspects of the economic recovery legislation. The House also passed legislation yesterday establishing new requirements that each House committee hold hearings on waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement. Towns seems unworried.

"One thing about fraud, waste and abuse, there's enough of it for everyone to look at it. Every committee can look at that. And then at the end of the day, we're still not going to be able to find it all."

As for concerns about his age, "I heard a lot of that," he said, but "some people would see me in the hall and say, 'You don't look 74'" he said with a smile.

"I would just say to you that eyes have not seen and ears have not heard what we're going to do, because I'm totally committed to this job and getting it done."

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By Ed O'Keefe  | January 15, 2009; 12:15 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Oversight  
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