THE BLOG
08/01/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Senator Leahy's Letter to the G.A.O., the Investigative Arm of the U.S. Congress

The central reason why countries and people around the world look with awe upon the mythical "oldest democracy" is because of their belief that the three branches of government in the U.S. work in an effective way and ensure follow-up. But is that merely a figment of imagination? In countless cases and instances, it appears that the existence of the three disparate branches, in effect, blocks oversight and even implementation, sometimes leaving many in puzzlement. A case in point is the letter to the G.A.O., the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, now over a year old, sent by U.S. Senators Leahy, Bayh and Lugar following the disappearance of the Bayh Amendment. According to several sources, the Bayh Amendment was likely taken out by the Majority Clerk of the key Subcommittee, Tim Rieser, who pretty much runs the Subcommittee since Senator Leahy is so preoccupied with chairing the very important Judiciary Committee. It will always remain unclear if the Amendment was deleted by Mr. Rieser acting on his own accord, or in consultation with Senator Leahy.

The G.A.O. has declared, recently, that they are ready to conduct the study but that they require access to information that certain World Bank bureaucrats had denied it. Those individuals took advantage of the privileges and immunities that ironically the U.S. Congress granted the Bank. But meanwhile, billions of dollars have been channelled from the U.S. Congress via the U.S. Treasury to the World Bank, most of it likely borrowed from China. That is the dysfunctional nature of the oversight. The last time such study was conducted was when Tim Geithner was a young Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury then headed by Robert Rubin, formerly of Goldman Sachs and later of Citibank. Geithner is well-known as Rubin's protégé. Meanwhile Robert Zoellick, himself formerly of Goldman Sachs, ascended to the head of the Bank because of his appointment by then-President George W. Bush and rubber-stamping by the World Bank's resident Board on which $100 million is spent every year. Further, the G.A.O.'s Deputy General Counsel Daniel Gordon has confirmed to me in a communication copied to the G.A.O.'s Acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro that G.A.O. lacks the authority to undertake any follow-up on its 1999 Report, which was the last of its kind on the World Bank. That is the case despite the efforts of high-ranking U.S. Senators Leahy, Bayh and Lugar, among the three most prominent on foreign & development policy and appropriations. It is no wonder that everyone could be puzzled about the "oversight" exercised by the Senate Committees and the Treasury.

Senator Leahy is next-in-line to take over the Chair of the entire U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee from Senator Inouye who is 86 years old. Through the Appropriations Committee passes $3.6 trillion a year, and so it is reasonable to ask the question, are the oversight systems in place for all that spending? The individual most intent on oversight and ensuring transparency & accountability, Senator Coburn, has been pretty much neutralized with the rapidly declining Republican numbers in the Senate and he is not on the Appropriations Committee, his "charming" by President Obama, and his previous work with Mr. Obama on the Google for Government Law, notwithstanding.

Many times, Senator Leahy has invoked the names of John and Robert Kennedy for having entered politics. Thus, of course, Senator Leahy's belief in American democracy transcends the variety that is solely committed to winning elections. Follow-up of initiatives and reporting back to the public is part of that sacred responsibility. Therefore the incomprehensible failure to account for what has happened to the letter that he co-authored, and indeed insisted on co-authoring, when he is the only Senator among the three co-authors with the means to get answers. The reply from the G.A.O. to the letter has also not been released by Senator Leahy. Senator Bayh only chairs an authorization sub-committee, and Senator Lugar is no longer in the majority and again, is only part of an authorizing committee that is increasingly seen as a talking-shop and is generally ignored amid the spiralling spending. Thus, the Appropriations Committee has largely become the only Committee that matters.

The culture of silence is not one that gains any credit in the hallowed halls of American democracy. If that were the case, it is something that should be publicized widely to ensure that people around the world focus more on business as usual rather than any passionate dream for change that President Obama inspired.