With Putnam's move, federal IT loses an advocate

Rep. Adam Putnam says, 'The Rules Committee is an extension of the leadership and gives these issues a voice at the table.'

J. Adam Fenster

Some expect less IT oversight from Government Reform Committee

With Rep. Adam Putnam's recent accession to the House Rules Committee, congressional oversight of federal IT is left in the breach.

'There will be less [congressional] scrutiny on all the things he has been driving,' said David McClure, vice president for e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government. He expressed concern that Putnam's replacement would not be as intensely focused on IT issues.

Putnam, a Florida Republican, took an immediate and active role studying the government's IT programs. As chairman of the Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census, Putnam spent the last 24 months learning the issues and developing a strong relationship with federal IT leaders.

He held more than 30 hearings on IT subjects such as cybersecurity, enterprise architectures and the Quicksilver e-government initiatives. And at many of those hearings, Putnam was the only lawmaker in the room, leaving his replacement with a steep learning curve.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) is vice chairwoman of the committee, but Putnam said her involvement has been limited to those issues that most interest her, such as the census and integrating IT into health care.

David Marin, spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the full committee, said no replacement has been named and may not be until the next Congress. Republican leaders tapped Putnam to replace Porter Goss on the Rules Committee. Also a Florida Republican, Goss gave up his House seat to become CIA director.

Three members with more seniority than Miller are also possible replacements. They are Reps. Edward Schrock (R-Va.), John Duncan (R-Tenn.) and Nathan Deal (R-Ga.).

No matter who replaces Putnam, the new chairman will have an experienced subcommittee staff including staff director Bob Dix'an advantage Putnam did not have, observers said.

Putnam will keep his seniority on the Government Reform Committee, which would let him assume a leadership role should he return. 'The Government Reform Committee is where a great deal of my passion is,' Putnam said. 'It touches nearly every area of public policy and impacts the public.'

Two other chairmenships of Government Reform subcommittees also will be open next session. Marin said the Civil Service and Energy Policy subcommittees also will need new leaders. He said Davis may rearrange the subcommittees' coverage areas.

'At the end of every Congress, the chairman looks at the structure and determines if any tweaks need to be made to improve our effectiveness,' Marin said. 'Sometimes you make changes based on interest and expertise of the new chairman. Chairman Davis has a deep interest in that subcommittee, and it will not be neglected for sure.'

Despite oversight loss, Putnam's move to the Rules Committee bodes well for legislative aspects of IT and e-government, several observers said.

Because the committee sets the agenda for what legislation is debated and how long, Putnam's influence on moving forward legislation on e-government and IT could be significant.

'The speaker would look to a new member to manage a specific bill based on the expertise from their other committee,' said Don Wolfensberger, director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former staff director for the House Rules Committee.

IT perspective on the agenda

Other observers said the committee frames the agenda for the House.

Putnam said the committee is a different venue to pursue the priorities of the subcommittee.

'This gives me the opportunity to influence amendments that could round out legislation,' he said. 'The Rules Committee is an extension of the leadership and gives these issues a voice at the table.'

Putnam said he would work with whoever succeeds him as chairman to move legislation in the House.

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