Jason Chaffetz, the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, doesn’t mince words when it comes to the scandal-plagued and mistake-prone Secret Service.
The agency lacks leadership and proper training.
The No. 2 in command – one of the only senior leaders left after a series of scandals and mistakes led to major bloodletting – needs to go.
And the new director needs to be somebody from outside the agency.
In fact, Chaffetz, whose new post gives him broad power to investigate wide swaths of the federal government, plans to make Secret Service reform the topic of one of his first hearings.
“I got more whistleblowers from the Secret Service than I do anywhere else. And if you look at that department and agency, it’s the one place you can never, ever, ever make a mistake, ever,” Chaffetz said in an interview. “And yet there is lack of clarity, rules of engagement are not understood. … The more I look at it, the scarier it gets for me.”
Chaffetz said his zeal to reform the agency isn’t partisan; he’s working closely with the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings.
The Secret Service declined to comment.
It’s the kind of tough-but-fair approach he said he wants to bring to all the committee’s work.
As he breaks in the captain’s chair, Chaffetz has turned to an unlikely role model for guidance, former Chairman Henry Waxman. The liberal California Democrat had a reputation as a wily investigator who regularly made big news during President George W. Bush’s final two years in office.
Chaffetz said he learned a lot by talking to Waxman. The most important takeaway: be tenacious.
“He had a vision for where he was going. He would set the stage months in advance and understood … the hearing itself was just a step in actually reforming government,” Chaffetz said.
Chaffetz had the chance to display some of that tenacity Tuesday when the committee held its first hearing with inspector generals who have been stonewalled by the Obama administration.
The Justice Department inspector general requested an organizational chart that could be found online, only to be given a completely redacted version by the department, Chaffetz said.
The Peace Corps inspector general, he said, has been examining how the organization deals with sexual assaults but has been unable to access the corps’ information.
Last summer, 47 of the 72 inspector generals sent a letter to the committee complaining that the Obama administration has curtailed access to important data. Chaffetz said he hoped the hearing would shake loose more information from the administration.
“If they want more money from Congress, if they want their budget from Congress, if they want their people confirmed in the Senate, they’re going to have to solve this problem,” Chaffetz said.
Chaffetz’s decision to hold his first hearing on the problems faced by inspector generals helps him on a couple of levels. It ingratiates him with the very officials whose job it is to identify problems inside the administration and allows him to poke the administration without appearing overly partisan.
Chaffetz said he also plans to focus his efforts on information technology and privacy.
“The federal government spends close to $100 billion [on technology] and it sucks. It doesn’t even work. And so how is it that you can spend $100 billion dollars and get a very inferior product?” Chaffetz asked. “You have some agencies that are just now getting Windows 97. Microsoft doesn’t even service that anymore and they’re just acquiring it. So we’ve got these kind of horror stories that we’ve got to sort out.”
The committee is also going to delve into the debate over whether consumers should be able to encrypt their phones (Chaffetz thinks they should) and if the government should be able to track Americans geolocation (he thinks they shouldn’t).
“It’s going to be a big push from the oversight committee. What is the government doing or not doing in terms of tracking you, following you, investigating you? And if you’re suspicion-less, it should be none of the above,” he said.
The new chairman made some waves inside the Beltway with one of his first decisions, an order to remove the portraits of past chairs from the committee room and replace them with pictures of everyday Americans.
It may not be a surprise then that Chaffetz doesn’t plan on commissioning a portrait of himself, calling it “a waste of money.”
“They can get my cot or they can go on my Instagram and pull off a picture if they want,” he said. “But no, I’m not going to sit for some painting. That’s so 1800’s. I’m not doing that.”
The cot might be more of a collector’s item anyway. When Chaffetz first came to Washington in 2009, he made news by sleeping in his office to save money.
Six years later and now a committee chairman, Chaffetz is still throwing down the cot at night and showering in the House gym in the morning. Perhaps proving that even life nearer the top of the Washington food chain still isn’t all that glamorous.
“Look it’s an honor and privilege to serve here,” he said. “But yeah, when your wife and kids are back (a) couple thousand miles away and you turn off that light at night and you’re all there by yourself sleeping in a closet, eh, maybe not the best.”
CNN’s Curt Devine contributed to this report.