Rep. Darrell Issa

10:00 PM PST on Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – Inland Rep. Darrell Issa will have to wait until January to formally take charge of the House Oversight Committee, but the new Republican majority’s chief investigator is already busy laying the groundwork for an ambitious agenda.

Beyond holding scores of hearings into the implementation of President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus plan, the housing meltdown, the bank bailout and myriad other topics, Issa is considering structural changes for the committee charged with fighting government abuse and bloat.

He has raised the possibility of adding subcommittees to the panel, which already has authority to delve into a broad spectrum of issues and the subpoena power to ensure answers to his questions.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, whose district includes portions of southwestern Riverside County, plans hearings on several topics. He may also push for changes to the oversight committee.

Issa, who represents portions of southwestern Riverside County and part of San Diego County, made clear his views on the breadth of the committee’s jurisdiction in the first minutes after it became clear the GOP had taken control of the House on Nov. 2.

“My portfolio is very broad,” Issa, R-Vista, said soon after the polls closed in California. “We own everything.”

Yet even with a staff of 80, double what it is now as the committee’s minority leader, Issa said he would be unable to grapple with all the issues of the day. He said other committees with larger legislative roles are better suited to take the lead in grappling with issues like health care and global warming, but that his investigative committee would serve a supporting role — and occasionally prod his colleagues to take action.

“I intend on letting the primary committees of jurisdiction do their job,” Issa said. “I look forward to saying to the other chairman, ‘Can you do this? Can I help you?’ ”

One way to increase oversight in Washington, Issa said, is to bolster the authority of inspectors general, the watchdogs who work inside federal agencies and monitor them for waste or fraud. He plans to introduce legislation that would give subpoena powers to inspectors general, he said.

Also among Issa’s first planned orders of business will be a call for increased transparency of the implementation of the stimulus program, also known as the Recovery Act. He proposes some form of penalty for recipients of stimulus dollars who fail to report — as required by the law — how the money is spent.

Issa planned to take up both of those issues Monday, when he was scheduled to sit down with Vice President Joe Biden. But White House officials canceled the meeting, citing a scheduling conflict.

In the months leading up to last week’s election, many prominent Democrats warned that Issa would run wild with his new subpoena power if Republicans seized the House, and Biden’s abrupt postponement prompted rumblings in the conservative blogosphere, suggesting the White House was wary of sitting down with him.

Issa’s office and the White House brushed off any such insinuation. Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella noted that with Obama away on an overseas trip, it is only natural that Biden’s schedule would tighten. He said plans were being made to reschedule for next week.

The prospect of Issa — who staunchly opposed the stimulus bill — providing increased scrutiny of its implementation is of no concern, said Ed Pound, spokesman for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which was created to oversee the law.

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