Anatomy of an Oversight Breakdown
Earlier today, a nominee of one party appeared in front of a lone Senator of the opposite party. These men traded cordial remarks while discussing the future of the nominee’s legal and political career. Mark A. Robbins, nominee for the Merit Systems Protection Board, appeared in front of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which was represented solely by Senator Daniel Akaka.
Akaka began by introducing Robbins, who was flanked by his parents and many of his friends. After going over his resume, Akaka swore in Robbins and handed him the floor. Here’s what Robbins had to say.
This was followed by a few softball questions, and the matter was over and done with in less than an hour.
What did not take place:
Any serious discussion of the MSPB’s current difficulties, Robbins’ plans for helping to remedy them, and whether MSPB will fulfill its mandate as originally designed by Congress. To hear it from Robbins’ himself (and I was there), you would think that MSPB was doing just fine and was in no need of any course correction.
My blog – its very reason for existence – is proof to the contrary.
Sadly, Akaka played along with this charade, and the NGOs who deign to represent the whistleblower and good government community (and who indeed have a near-monopolistic hold on Congress’ attention) were nowhere to be found. Not one word has been uttered from the press shops of GAP, POGO, MISC, or NWC about Robbins’ nomination. Maybe maintaining cordial relations is more important than holding government officials’ feet to the fire; maybe discussions take place behind closed doors and out of public sight; maybe it doesn’t really matter who the nominee is as long as the whistleblowers keep coming in through the front door.
The Civil Service Reform Act was signed into law in 1978. At the time, it was landmark legislation that was motivated by the abuses of the Watergate scandals. The Whistleblower Protection Act was passed in 1989, a year before the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA has achieved public renown and near-constitutional status. No one would think of repealing it or letting its provisions go unenforced. But how many Americans have heard of the CSRA or WPA? How many know the turbulent history of the Office of Special Counsel, assuming they’ve even heard of it? How many realize that the WPA is one of the least observed laws in the U.S. Code?
It’s been over a dozen years since whistleblower legislation was passed by Congress. But do these new, enhanced laws matter if they can be gutted and ignored before the ink dries?
It’s not enough to pass new laws, or to make sure the ones in the books are enforced. If we really care about good government, it’s also important to raise the profile of these laws to near-constitutional levels. It starts by practicing transparency, by asking the tough questions regardless of impact on personal relationships, and by looking past transactional, beltway politics.