Citizen Watchdogs to Aid Rep. Issa in Oversight Investigations

Representative Darrell Issa (R-California) is taking an unusual step.

The chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is certain that government is in the way of job creation. So instead of calling CEOs or lobbyists in front of his committee to testify, he's asking small businesses to go to a website, www.americanjobcreators.com, and fill out a short form with information on how government is keeping them from creating new jobs.

"There are lots of people in the country upset with the direction of the nation," said Seamus Kraft, director of digital strategy and press secretary for the committee. "We're kind of sitting in the middle between the people who want something done and the government who can get something done even if it's just to get out of the way."

According to Kraft, legislators are not necessarily the ones with the answers.

"We don't have all the answers -- no one on either side of the aisle does," he said. "We're trying to find a way to let the real experts, the real citizen watchdogs, have a say. We want to allow it to inform the regulatory reform we're undertaking."

Kraft said they are building on their successful citizen watchdog effort of last year called "Signs of a Failed Stimulus," in which Issa encouraged citizens to take pictures of the stimulus road signs  -- at least one of which, as PJM reported, cost $10,000 -- and send them to a House website.

"About 1,000 unique signs came in," Kraft said. "From a cost benefit it was ridiculously effective."

Kraft noted many Americans were incensed by the Obama administration spending taxpayer money to tell people they were spending taxpayer money.

At the time, Issa was ranking member on the committee and in the minority. Consequently, despite multiple requests to various inspectors general, Issa was unable to determine exactly how much of the "stimulus" was spent just on signage.

"Quite frankly the executive branch said this (the stimulus signs) wasn't important enough to even respond or tell us how much was spent," Kraft said. "Now that we're in the majority we want to do something about it."

Kraft said one of the reasons behind the website is to try to hold the administration accountable.

"It's one thing for the administration to say 'bugger off Mr. Issa,' or 'bugger off House Republicans,'" Kraft said. "It's another thing for them to say 'bugger off Mr. John Doe in Topeka, Kansas,' who sent us a picture of a sign and just wanted to know how much it cost."

Consequently, Kraft said, there will be a citizen watchdog component to every investigation the committee undertakes.

"This is the beginning of a new way to do oversight," he said. "I am spending a lot of time and energy on this and I have a mandate from the chairman to make sure every investigation going forward has a real citizen watchdog component, to give activated, interested citizens a way to get involved.

"This is not a platform just for Mr. Issa or just for the Republican caucus, but for every one and every committee in Congress."