WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced plans to introduce a government reform package Wednesday during a hearing of the committee he leads, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The package includes reforms to strengthen inspectors general, curb improper payments and improve anti-fraud controls, expedite the disposal of unneeded federal property, improve government transparency, and enhance whistleblower protections. The package would encompass 15 bills that already have been approved by voice vote or unanimous roll calls in the committee this Congress. Johnson announced he would ask that the full Senate be given the chance to consider the package.
Johnson encouraged Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.) to join him in his efforts and noted that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has committed to full Senate consideration of the bill.
Johnson introduced the legislation by highlighting the work the committee has done, noting that some of the bipartisan bills that the committee has approved need action by the full Senate to get signed into law.
“We’ve passed 69 pieces of legislation through this committee, most of it unanimously,” said Johnson. “Twenty-four now have been signed into law. There’s another piece of legislation that’s waiting on the president’s desk. So in some way, shape or form, we’ve got it to the president’s desk, got it through. … I really do hope that Senator Carper will join me in this piece of legislation that we’d like to get on the floor. … Senator McConnell’s committed to doing so, so we can actually implement some of these great recommendations from the GAO, so I hope you join us in that.”
“Let me just say, if I could, Mr. Chairman,” Carper replied, “I think we’ve done good work, and I’m proud of what we’ve done building on the record that Dr. (Tom) Coburn helped to create. I’m very much interested in the package that’s put together. A lot of it is stuff that I’ve helped to write or authored.”
Coburn, a physician who retired from Senate last year after a career distinguished by his focus on eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, testified at the hearing, which covered those problems. He pointed out that many of the reforms in the package are ones that he championed with Carper when he was ranking member of the committee. Coburn encouraged the members of the committee to “carry forward the tradition of bipartisanship” and work to get the bills approved by the committee “across the finish line this year.”
VIDEO: Watch Chairman Johnson’s remarks here.
Government reform package highlights:
Bipartisan: Combines 15 bills that were voice-voted or unanimously roll-call-voted out of HSGAC in the 114th Congress. Each HSGAC member has sponsored or cosponsored at least one of the bills.
Unfinished business: Several bills have been introduced in multiple years but have never gotten over the finish line because they could not get unanimous consent, such as real property reform (since 2012), and Taxpayers Right to Know (since 2011).
GAO recommendations: Many, if not most, of these bills came from GAO recommendations. Some examples include fraud controls and reduction of improper payments, Taxpayer Right to Know, and software license reform.
Potential for ballooning effect. Like Coburn’s GAO duplication amendment, these reforms could have a ballooning effect on the federal government’s ability to curb wasteful spending and provide efficient programs years into the future by:
- Cutting wasteful spending: Reducing improper payments, preventing wasteful bonuses, reforming former presidents’ pay, and prohibiting federally funded oil paintings.
- Promoting efficiency: Requiring the disposition of costly, underutilized and unnecessary federal properties and improving real property management; preventing agencies from purchasing unneeded software licenses; freeing up inspector general resources; and requiring more efficient personnel investigations and use of administrative leave.
- Strengthening watchdogs: Empowering inspectors general to be more effective independent watchdogs, which could save millions. For every dollar invested in inspectors general, they return $21 in savings to the American taxpayer.
Holds government accountable: Strengthens whistleblower protections and penalties — including for Department of Veterans Affairs employees who blow the whistle on corruption and life-threatening practices that endanger veterans — and improves training for supervisors.
Bipartisan bills included in the Government Reform package:
TITLE I—EFFICIENCY, TRANSPARENCY, AND OTHER REFORMS
Subtitle A—Federal Real Property Sale and Management
- S. 2375 (Johnson, Warner, Blunt, Portman, Lankford). Creates a council to reduce the wasteful size of the federal inventory. Passed HSGAC by voice vote.
- S. 2509 (Carper, Portman, Johnson, King, Heitkamp, Lankford). Reduces wasteful spending by improving federal real property management. Passed HSGAC by voice vote. First introduced in 2012.
Subtitle B—Taxpayers Right to Know Act
- S. 282 (Lankford, McCaskill, Johnson, Ayotte, Heitkamp, Enzi, McCain, Portman, Peters, Paul, Fischer). Increases transparency by requiring the Office of Management and Budget to create a federal program inventory. Passed HSGAC by voice vote. First introduced in 2011.
Subtitle C—Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People
- S. 1073 (Carper, Johnson, Warner, Coats, Booker, McCaskill, Tillis, Baldwin). Reduces improper payments by expanding agency access to the full Death Master File. Passed HSGAC by voice vote. First introduced in 2014.
Subtitle D—Fraud Reduction and Data Analytics
- S. 2133 (Carper, Tillis, McCaskill, Johnson, Baldwin, Ayotte). Reduces wasteful spending by implementing GAO recommendations to strengthen federal anti-fraud financial controls. Passed HSGAC by voice vote.
Subtitle E—Administrative Leave Reform
- S. 2450 (Tester, Grassley, Johnson, Carper, Lankford, McCaskill). Reduces government abuse of administrative leave. Passed HSGAC by voice vote.
Subtitle F—Enhancements for Inspectors General
- S. 579 (Grassley, McCaskill, Johnson, Baldwin, Ernst, Cornyn, Mikulski, Collins, Carper, Ayotte, Kirk, Lankford, Fischer, Wyden, Enzi, Manchin, Peters, Portman). Strengthens inspector general independence, access, and efficiencies. Passed HSGAC by voice vote. Parts of this bill first introduced as early as 2010.
- S. 2128 (Sasse, McCaskill). Will reduce federal duplication and waste by gathering a list of inspector general mandated reporting with recommendations for reductions. Passed HSGAC by voice vote.
Subtitle G—Stopping Wasteful Federal Bonuses
- S. 742 (Ayotte, McCaskill, Fischer). Increases accountability and reduces waste by limiting bonuses paid to federal employees who have engaged in misconduct. Passed HSGAC by voice vote.
Subtitle H—Eliminating Government-Funded Oil Paintings
- S. 310 (Cassidy, Fischer, Roberts, Daines, Johnson). Reduces wasteful government spending by making permanent the existing appropriations ban on the use of federal funds for portraits. Passed HSGAC by voice vote. First introduced in 2013.
Subtitle I—Presidential Allowance Modernization
- S. 1411 (Ernst, Kirk, Rubio). Modernizes federal pay for former presidents and their widows. Passed HSGAC by voice vote.
Subtitle J—Making Electronic Government Accountable
- S. 2340 (Cassidy, Peters). Reduces duplication by implementing GAO recommendations to manage existing agency software licenses effectively. Passed HSGAC by voice vote.
Subtitle K—Construction Consensus Procurement Improvement
- S. 1526 (Portman, Hirono, Ayotte, Shaheen). Reforms for construction contracts. Passed HSGAC by voice vote.
TITLE II—ACCOUNTABILITY ENHANCEMENTS
Subtitle A — Expanded Whistleblower Protections for Employees
- S. 2127 (Johnson, Ayotte, Kirk, Ernst). Increases accountability and transparency through more stringent whistleblower reforms, and reducing unauthorized access to medical files. Passed HSGAC by roll call vote 9-0.
Subtitle B—Enhanced Whistleblower Protection for Contractor and Grantee Employees
- S. 795 (McCaskill, Johnson). Enhances whistleblower protections for contractor and grantee employees. Passed HSGAC by voice vote.