The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is a United States House of Representatives committee that has existed in varying forms since 1816.
The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the main investigative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. After Republicans gained control of the House in 1995, the committee was reorganized to include just seven subcommittees. This reorganization consolidated the jurisdiction previously covered by 3 full committees and 14 subcommittees, and resulted in a 50 percent cut in staff. In 2007, Henry Waxman, (D-CA) the chairman of the committee proposed an additional reorganization which combined the duties of the seven previous subcommittees into five. This reorganization was adopted by the full committee January 18, 2007.
As of the 114th Congress, the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and the Ranking Member is Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings.
The Committee’s government-wide oversight jurisdiction and expanded legislative authority make it one of the most influential and powerful committees in the House. The Committee serves as Congress’ chief investigative and oversight committee, and is granted broad jurisdiction. The chairman of the committee is the only committee chairman in the House with the authority to issue subpoenas without a committee vote. However, in recent history, it has become practice to refrain from unilateral subpoenas.
It first appeared as the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments, which was created in 1927 by consolidating the 11 Committees on Expenditures previously spread among the various departments of the federal government to oversee how taxpayer monies were spent. The Committee’s immediate predecessor, the Committee on Government Operations, was established in 1952. The name change was intended to communicate the primary function of the committee: to study “the operations of Government activities at all levels with a view to determining their economy and efficiency.” It is the Committee’s government-wide oversight jurisdiction that sets it apart from other House committees. The committee was renamed in the 106th Congress as the Committee on Government Reform. While retaining the agenda of the former Committee on Government Operations, the Committee also has the responsibilities of the former Committee on Post Office and Civil Service and the Committee on the District of Columbia. On January 4, 2007, the 110th Congress changed its name to its current name.
This Committee was very active during President Bill Clinton’s term; it issued 1,052 subpoenas to probe alleged misconduct by the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Party between 1997 and 2002, at a cost of more than $35 million. Under this period, subpoenas could only be issued by the Committee chair, a rule change during the Clinton administration to facilitate investigations without delays caused by objections from minority members. By contrast, in the period between 1998 and 2007, chairman Thomas M. Davis and the Republican majority had permitted three subpoenas to the Bush administration, including one to the Defense Department over Hurricane Katrina documents. The Boston Globe reported that an “examination of committees’ own reports found that the House Government Reform Committee held just 37 hearings described as “oversight” or investigative in nature during the last Congress, down from 135 such hearings held by its predecessor, the House Government Operations Committee, in 1993–94, the last year the Democrats controlled the chamber.”
There was high interest in the priorities of the then newly installed Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) who told reporters after the November elections that “The most difficult thing will be to pick and choose” what to investigate. Congressional leaders also renamed the Committee and five of its subcommittees to emphasize its new commitment to oversight responsibilities, and added a subcommittee on transparency.
Between 2000 and 2006, various scandals were in the news that generated one or no subpoenas for testimony or documents. These events include the September 11, 2001 attacks, a leak of classified or secret information naming Central Intelligence Agency agent Valerie Plame, abuses and war crimes traced to the CIA in Abu Ghraib prison, evidence that charges that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction were knowingly false, illegal campaign contributions by lobbyists including Jack Abramoff, billions of dollars in preventable damage and thousands of deaths due to an incompetent response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its contractors during Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. Gulf Coast, and the suppression of accepted scientific data such as that of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration supporting the theory of global warming by Philip Cooney. After revelations in the Downing Street memo, a document containing incriminating information on the buildup to the Iraq War, Democrats in the minority were refused even a hearing chamber and were forced to meet in the basement of the U.S. Capitol Building on the matter.
Since the November 2006 elections, The Washington Post published a series of investigative articles on the poor Congressional oversight of government contracts.
The committee, under Davis’s chairmanship, launched two notable investigations that were considered controversial. One was an inquiry into the decision to remove life support from Terri Schiavo. The Committee issued a subpoena, without any Democratic objections, requiring Schiavo to “appear” so that members could “examine nutrition and hydration which incapacitated patients receive as part of their care.” The apparent objective of this, beyond providing a learning opportunity to committee members, was to delay the pending termination of Schiavo’s life, whose wishes were in dispute, while the Congress considered federal legislation specifically targeted at Schiavo’s death order. Minority members opposed the action. Chairman Davis said it was “a legitimate legislative inquiry.” Davis issued a joint statement with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) that stated: “This inquiry should give hope to Terri, her parents and friends, and the millions of people throughout the world who are praying for her safety. This fight is not over.”
Another controversial investigation was one into the use of anabolic steroids by players in Major League Baseball. The trigger for the hearings was publication of a memoir, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big, by Jose Canseco.
They also investigated World Wrestling Entertainment regarding their talent wellness/drug policies, after speculation of possible links between steroid use and the death of WWE performer Chris Benoit.
On July 8, 2009, the Committee Republicans released an investigative staff report discussing the financial collapse of 2008–2009. The report alleges that the government was the cause of the collapse, due what it described as government meddling in the United States housing and lending market in the name of “affordable housing”.
The committee hold hearings and conducts investigations as part of its oversight duty.
March 23, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed that would “require all employers to cover birth control free of cost to women”. In January 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services released the rules governing religious institutions that needed a Conscience clause. Those new rules were widely condemned for infringing on the Free Exercise Clause.
In February 2012, the committee held a hearing entitled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” 
The hearing “was supposed to be about religious freedom and a mandate that health insurers cover contraception in the United States”, according to ABC News, which also reported that “Issa said the hearing is meant to be more broadly about religious freedom and not specifically about the contraception mandate in the Health Reform law.”
The agenda, speakers list, and topics were finalized and published Monday, February 13, and were divided into two panels, the first, in the morning, to be of clergy/religious leaders/theologians, who could authoritatively speak for various religious denominations about their needs or lack thereof for a conscience clause, to hear testimony from leaders of different faiths who “are concerned that government, under this Administration, is encroaching on their First Amendment rights.”
The second panel met in the afternoon, and was composed of lay or religious leaders of religious-affiliated institutions that would be affected by the wording of the conscience clause. Democrats were offered two spots on each of the two panels, but failed to nominate any speakers by the 13th. Rep. Issa verbally confirmed that Democrats had asked Rev Barry Lynn, a prominent theologian, to speak, and his name was added to the speakers list, though without topics, or assignment to a panel, since no complete written nomination had been received by deadline.
On the day of the hearing, Democrats demanded the committee also add Sandra Fluke, a woman enrolled at Georgetown, to the panel (clergy) that had just sat, and that she be allowed to speak “now”, but committee chairman Issa said Democrats could not add their witness because she was not a member of the clergy.
As an accommodation, Ms. Fluke’s speech at a media event from the previous week (substantially the same as the speech she intended to give), was added to the hearing record, Criticism of the views contained in that speech, (which was also delivered again a week later at a venue outside the Committee) especially by Rush Limbaugh, launched the Rush Limbaugh–Sandra Fluke controversy.
Issa, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, announced that he is investigating the Justice Department’s actions in prosecuting Swartz’s case. In a statement to the Huffington Post, Issa praised Swartz’s work toward “open government and free access to the people.” Issa’s investigation has garnered some bipartisan support.
On January 28, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Issa and ranking member Elijah Cummings published a letter to Attorney General Holder, questioning whether prosecutors intentionally added felony counts to increase the amount of time Swartz faced in prison. Indeed, the former 4 felony counts on July 14, 2011, jumped to 13 counts on Sept. 12, 2012. Their letter read, in part:
It appears that prosecutors increased the felony counts by providing specific dates for each action, turning each marked date into its own felony charge, and significantly increasing Mr. Swartz’s maximum criminal exposure to up to 50 years imprisonment and $1 million in fines.
Boston’s WBUR has reported that US Attorney in charge for the Swartz prosecution, Carmen Ortiz, is expected to testify before the committee’s upcoming probe into the handling of the Aaron Swartz case.
Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittees Website