Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., spoke in his office Feb. 14 about his plans to investigate government waste and misspending. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
Get ready to hear a lot more from Florida Republican John Mica.
The former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee lost his committee chairmanship at the end of the last Congress due to term limits. Now he is chair of the government operations subcommittee in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Mica promises to continue work he did at his old committee and expand his investigations to include a wide array of government activities and programs.
“My oversight area is from sea to shining sea, and there is a lot to look at,” Mica said in a Feb. 14 interview with Federal Times. Following are edited excerpts:
Q: What are your priorities for 2013? What are you looking at investigating?
A: I feel a little bit like a kid in a candy shop. You’ve got so much to choose from in regards to government waste, fraud and abuse. I will try to do a sort of a continuum of things I focused on when I was chairman of the transportation committee.
We are leading off with federal properties. Today we had the high-risk list that was produced by [the Government Accountability Office] and, in that, one of the areas was the mismanagement of federal properties. I have already visited a couple of sites looking at federal properties in the Capital region: One million excess square feet in Springfield, Va., from [the General Services Administration] and 7,000 acres of excess property in Beltsville, Md., that is under the Department of Agriculture.
We will also look at misspending at [the Transportation Security Administration] and the massive bureaucracy that they built. We have a list of about a half a dozen areas we are looking at. One of the big focuses will be [information technology], and it’s my hope that we can look at some areas that need further attention. That is $87 billion a year in expenditures. We will be looking at the consolidation of data centers and pay better attention to each of the agency’s [chief information officers]. We want to see if they are all needed and how effective that structure is.
Cybersecurity is another subject that may get some of our attention. We have looked at a lot of areas, but it’s a matter of picking and choosing.
Q: Do you believe the administration has made progress in reducing waste in areas such as IT and excess properties?
A: I would say it’s a record of failure. They have set some very minor goals for efficiency, including in excess real estate, and not really achieved much. Some of the successes were at our prodding, such as the progress made on the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. … I think we have only scratched the surface of savings and doing better with wasteful spending and programs and mismanagement of federal assets.
Q: Are there any specific IT programs you are looking at?
A: I am going to [the Office of Personnel Management] first. OPM has spent a quarter billion dollars on an IT system to automate its retirement claims and has trashed it. It’s quite a bit of money to waste — and now they are doing work by hand, which is about as inefficient as it gets.
Q: Do you think the efforts of acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini have been successful in turning GSA around?
A: It is my hope that we can continue to work with him. He told me some of his problems are with Congress, and we are part of the problem the way we set restrictions and parameters for how they operate. Part of the problem is Congress not passing legislation that gives GSA the authority to move forward [on shedding excess property] in an expedited basis.
Q: Do you see the Department of Homeland Security completing its planned headquarters complex in Southeast Washington?
A: I am going to do all I can to not only call for a reorganization of the agency, but I think it’s time to consider dismantling some of the massive bureaucracy we created some time ago in a different era. It’s been costly, and it’s been very cumbersome, and it’s now creating physical monuments to itself. I put all that on hold.
We are very hesitant to moving further ahead with that. The Department of Homeland Security should be limited to a small core that deals with the consolidation of intelligence and sharing it with other agencies. It might help if we can get Homeland Security down to three or four thousand people and reinstitute some of the independence of agencies, such as the Coast Guard.
TSA should totally be dismantled. They need to be kept completely out of the screening business and have that turned over to the private sector. St. Elizabeths [site of the planned DHS headquarters complex] was a four- or five-billion-dollar project, but we put that on hold. That might be a good place to put the new FBI headquarters.
I will do everything I can to change the headquarters project and the agency to put a stop to the monuments of bureaucracy.