Friday, June 8, 2007

No slacker--Big Fred grinds it out

“We need to revisit the Improper Payments Information Act and focus on Appendix C to OMB Circular A-12. We’re looking at $21 billion in billing errors, and these H-codes gotta be adjusted, as per Clinger-Cohen.” Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN), press conference, Senate "Swamp"outside Capitol, May 21, 2001.

None of the five people reading this need my dim mind to weigh in on the Saga that is the race for the GOP presidential nomination. There are plenty of other seers who see this race with keener minds than mine, starting with Aaron “Be Free” Hase, Adventure Man and Blogmeister General. Indeed, of all the Republicans running, I have to say, as hackneyed as it sounds, that John McCain’s personal story is something that provides me with inspiration in many facets of my everyday life.

But the inevitable entry of ex-Senator Fred Thompson into the brawl-o-rama get this hack wound up like a cat in a rocking chair factory. No, the big man Tennessee doesn’t need zany Coastmaster in his corner but I feel the record needs correcting here. Every profile I’ve read on Thompson contains references, by the typical unnamed coward sources, to him being “lazy”, his Senate career lackluster, and gasp, there’s not a piece of legislation with his name on it! (Well gee, Teddy Kennedy has his name on a bunch of bills – and that’s made the nation a better place, n’cest pa?)

My experience with Senator Thompson dates to when I was the public affairs chief for GAO, the Government Accountability Office, a legislative branch agency providing oversight of the feds. Thompson was chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, the complementary panel to GAO. It’s kind of a backwater committee, with not the visibility of say, Foreign Affairs, or Armed Services, or Appropriations. But the committee is essential to investigating the mechanics of government – and how those gears can be made to work more efficiently.
So yeah, Thompson was a big show boater – a huge proponent of the Clinger-Cohen Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996, doncha know; which required that the “government information technology shop be operated exactly as an efficient and profitable business would be operated.” Then there was his support for the President's Management Agenda, announced in the summer of 2001, “an aggressive strategy for improving the management of the Federal government…focusing on Expanding E-Government: Improved Service Delivery for the American People Using Information Technology and Expanding E-Government: Partnering for a Results-Oriented Government.” Yowzah, man, hot Hot HOT! Front page baby!

Thompson was committed back of GAO’s High Risk list, another blockbuster for serious students of government but relegated to a desultory affair, that identified those agencies in government that were performing sup par, wasting taxpayer dollars, and thus needed fixing.
These are the kinds of endeavors that are dull as dishwater but vital as air for those who want a Government That Works. Thompson was the guy who knew all these arcane subsections and cites, and while other members were dancing around getting headlines on the issue of the day, Thompson was grinding it out in Committee; I know, I had to attend those hearings and they were full of minutiae.
In fact, of the many Members I’ve dealt with in my primo roll as the number-one Hill hack, Thompson was one of the two or three who always impressed me as immersed in details, the guy who took on these arcane and non-headline issues, and pursued them doggedly. Another, coincidentally enough, was Senator Joe Lieberman, ranking on the Committee and a genuine friend of Thompson’s.
So we zing to the press conference outside the Senate, with just a few journalists, with Thompson going on calmly about improper payments and Medicare, the maddening system of billings done by Medicare providers that involved waste, fraud and abuse with a capital WFA. Then- OMB director Mitch Daniels was with Thompson, but Thompson knew this subject matter cold.
So now I hear the stories about Thompson, which are typical of 1. Opponents who want to drag him down, which is the way it works, and 2. A lazy press corps who but for a few stalwarts, didn’t cover this subject matter when Thompson was preaching at the wind.
Now, I’m too much of a nothing burger to have any say in this race. But Thompson, whatever his faults, is not getting a fair shake. When you’re waxing on about OMB circulars and Clinger-Cohen’s e-billing protocols, you’re not exactly lazy or lackluster. In fact, you’re actually doing what government is supposed to be doing, which is trying to do better.

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