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Washington • When Rep. Jason Chaffetz takes over as Congress' lead investigator in January, the Obama administration should brace for a slew of probes from carryover issues like the IRS and Obamacare to embassy security and agency regulations.
And administration officials should set aside plenty of time for hearings.
"There continues to be a lot of smoke, and we're going to continue to pursue it," Chaffetz said this week. "We're going to be a very active committee."
The Utah Republican has spent the weeks since being named chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee organizing the panel, hiring staff and setting out an ambitious agenda for the coming two years. Some 60 percent of the committee's staff will be new in the coming session, and Chaffetz is adding a subcommittee focused on information-technology issues such as privacy, hacking and cloud computing.
As the first Oversight chairman from the Intermountain West, Chaffetz says the committee will take a hard look at energy issues and Interior Department operations.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell met with Chaffetz last week and asked not to be buried in paperwork; Chaffetz, who as chairman will hold unilateral subpoena power, says he doesn't want to force agencies to comply with his requests and hopes they'll do it voluntarily.
"If I issue a subpoena, it's because we've run out of alternatives," Chaffetz said, noting he doesn't have a "magic number" for how many subpoenas he expects to issue.
Maryland's Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, had pressed for current Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., to bring subpoenas before the full panel for a vote, or at least seek joint approval with the minority party. Chaffetz says that isn't going to happen.
The Utah Republican plans more committee-issued reports on investigations, even if Democrats don't support the findings. And showing how focused the committee is on grabbing headlines, Chaffetz plans a communications staff of nine people, including three for digital media.
The incoming chairman, though, says he's not going to be the one jumping on every network to tout himself or his committee's efforts.
"I want to see more of our members doing that," Chaffetz said, noting he turns down 70 percent of TV-appearance requests. "Part of my goal is not [to have] the Jason Chaffetz show."
While the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, still will be a hot topic for the committee Chaffetz hinted one of his first hearings will look at Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber Chaffetz doesn't plan to further review the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, which a recent Senate report said included torture of detainees. The new chairman doesn't buy the report's findings.
"That was a bit of sham from what I saw from afar," Chaffetz said. "We've got a lot of present-day problems we need to address. That's come and gone. I don't see us reaching back to the early 2000s."
Chaffetz promises a new approach to working with Democrats and that he won't get too personal when it comes to the committee's agenda.
Cummings, who will have 17 Democrats to Chaffetz's 23 Republicans, said previously that he hopes to work with Chaffetz to "conduct bipartisan oversight, develop constructive reforms, and move our nation forward."
"I am hopeful that Representative Chaffetz will work closely with Democrats to develop our committee's agenda for the next Congress, consult closely on our rules and protocols, and address the core issues that go to the center of people's daily lives," Cummings said in a statement.