Just about every poll suggests a high level of distrust in Washington and woefully low views of the way Congress operates. In an election year that saw the losses of long-standing Members of Congress, rejection of a popular President’s big-government agenda, and a huge wave of reform-minded candidates, this should give us all reason to not just re-evaluate what Washington is up to, but how we’re doing the people’s business.
The Appropriations Committee has long been perceived as an insular cadre of Members and imbedded staff with too much influence and too little teamwork - much to the chagrin of the rest of the Congress. In fact, this has spilled over to genuine distrust by the American people. What once was a hallowed committee here in Washington is now seen with general disdain and suspicion.
What is needed then is not simply a fresh coat of paint and some new furniture, but a complete kitchen and living room remodel, walls removed, doors dismantled, and backrooms and hidden closets destroyed. In its place, more windows, better lighting, and enough room for everyone – leadership, authorizers, coalitions, constituents – to have a seat at the table.
To get reform right, collaboration and communication must be in the architectural drawings. I’ve proposed inclusion of a coalition coordinator who will work with outside groups, conservative and good-government organizations, Member caucuses, authorizing committees, and Leadership to build strategies for reforming and refining our federal government and getting the message out.
Just going in alone won’t work anymore. The problems we face from financial solvency to out-of-control Washington bureaucracies must be addressed from several fronts. Appropriators serve a role alongside authorizers, GAO investigators, the Budget Committee and outside groups in helping craft a leaner, more responsive government. We can’t rebuild the House and the trust of the American people alone. But if we continue to remain insulated, unwilling to make the tough decisions, and simply turf-focused, we won’t see the measurable gains so desperately needed.
After collaboration, a second critical step is utilizing new media to promote our message. The way people obtain information has drastically changed over the past few years. No longer do people rely on the morning paper or nightly news for all their information. New media has created forums for working families, veterans, school children and seniors to obtain first hand information and participate more fully in the democratic process. If we want to have a more transparent, collaborative Congress then we must fully embrace this medium of communication.
I have personally made an effort to be more involved and ramped up my online presence so that I can connect with the people I represent. Blogging, the America Speaks Out campaign, interactive websites and active participation on Facebook and YouTube create new dialogue and new trust. This doesn’t happen overnight, but over the course of two years I have made it a priority to stretch beyond the traditional communication mechanisms into new ways to listen to American people and share the challenges of the work on Capitol Hill.
These sorts of efforts shouldn’t just stop with a Member’s personal office; they need to be implemented across the board. That is why I am proposing that the Appropriations Committee lead in the new media marketplace. It is essential that the American people not only have access to their Representative, but also to the Committees that are making decisions on the laws that affect them. Online committee reports, hearings, and live mark-ups are an easy way to ensure the process is transparent. The Appropriations Committee touches every federal agency and communicating our collaborative work in ending failed programs, uprooting waste, and demanding excellence in Washington must become a constant storyline.
As I mentioned earlier, simply rearranging the chairs isn’t enough. What is needed is a serious and sustained commitment to rebuilding our House. There is no better place and no more appropriate time than now to take an ax to the walls of the Appropriations Committee, let the light in, strip the building down to the studs, and begin a thorough remodel to rebuild the trust of the American people.