Platts zeroes in on agency financials

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By Meg Beasley
Federal News Radio

Two upcoming hearings will set the tone for how House Republicans will oversee federal financial management.

Congressman Todd Platts (R-Pa.) spoke with Federal News Radio in his first interview since being appointed chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management.

Platts said the first step to ensuring taxpayer money isn’t being wasted is seeing how the money is being spent. Starting this week, the subcommittee will hold the first of two hearings on the consolidated financial report – a record of how agencies have handled money.

He said the first hearing, scheduled for Feb. 16, will look at how to make the report more useable for Congress, the administration and the public.

Platts said a second hearing with the report’s authors – the Department of the Treasury, the Office of Management and Budget and the Government Accountability Office – will take place on March 9.

“It will really allow us to delve into what are we doing right and what are we doing wrong?” Platts said. “Especially in the areas of internal controls – how agencies are properly ensuring that the American people’s money is not being wasted or paid out wrongfully.”

He added that information from those hearings will guide the subcommittee in subsequent hearings about more focused topics.

Platts said he hopes agencies will view his subcommittee as an ally in their effort to provide the best services they can.

“I fully believe that the norm in the federal government is hard working and dedicated employees who want to do right by their fellow citizens,” Platts said. “Sometimes the challenge is the size of the bureaucracy makes it cumbersome or harder to do that. If they have ideas on how we can strengthen the operations of the federal government, we’re going to be all ears.”

In addition to agency financial reports, Platts said the subcommittee also will look at performance ratings. He said both factors contribute to determining how efficiently money is spent.

Platts was chairman of the same subcommittee four years ago during the last Republican majority. He said the fact that the current administration is led by Democrats won’t change the way his subcommittee operates, largely because of his relationship with the subcommittee’s ranking member, Edolphus Towns (D-NY). The two swapped chairmanship of the subcommittee when the majority changed.

“Ed and I have a great working relationship,” said Platts. “It’s not about Republican or Democrat. It’s about good government and a non-partisan approach. Ed and I have long had that relationship, really focusing on the work before us – just trying to get good results and not worried about who’s getting the credit.”

Platts said work the subcommittee already has done with Treasury is proof of the smooth transition. He said the committee is talking to Treasury about strengthening its ability to go after non-tax debt, such as outstanding fines.

Another issue Platts plans to address is improper payments, which he said have ballooned four-fold in four years. He said the estimate for improper payments when he was last chairman was $35 billion – the latest estimate is $125 billion. Platts said this is both good and bad news.

“I think we are better identifying where improper payments are being made but we haven’t moved into the next stage, which is to make sure we stop those improper payments,” he said. “And that goes back into the issue of internal controls and the importance of each agency having good systems in place.”

Platts said good stewardship should always be a government priority, but it is even more important with the current deficit. He said he hopes the attention the public is paying to the debt will let his subcommittee be more effective.

“The current fiscal environment certainly will add to the imperative nature of what our subcommittee’s oversight responsibilities are and will be in the coming term,” he said.

(Copyright 2011 by All Rights Reserved.)