Late last week, the Committee on Oversight and Accountability published the House of Representative’s “Authorization and Oversight Plans.” The massive 241-page report is required by the House rules, and the Oversight Committee’s report collects the individual oversight plans that each standing committee of the House is required to create at the start of a new Congress. The report is the most comprehensive collection of the committees’ plans for investigations in the coming Congress.
This year’s report reflects a significant shift in priorities, reflecting the change in control of the House to the Republicans. For example, the Oversight Plan speaks to expected oversight of the Administration’s alleged “collusion” with “Big Tech,” the “politicization” of the federal government, China’s interactions with the American economy and national security, and the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing prevention efforts. A repeated priority throughout the plans is seeking out and minimizing instances of “waste, fraud, and abuse” in government programs, which includes scrutinizing the recipients and use of government funds.
The plans of the four most active oversight committees—Oversight and Accountability, Judiciary, Energy and Commerce, and Financial Services—stand out in particular for their focus on the private sector and the way companies interact with the federal government. Other committees, including the Foreign Affairs Committee, have outlined ambitious oversight agendas as well. Of note, the Foreign Affairs Committee has added a Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability “to undertake more complex oversight and investigative activities,” including on issues related to China, the conflict in Ukraine, the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the origins of the pandemic. The Oversight Plan does not include the oversight objectives of the newly created House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, which we explored in a separate alert.
The following summarizes key portions of the Oversight Plan with implications for the private sector and other individuals and entities that routinely interface with government:
Committee on Oversight and Accountability
- Waste, Fraud, and Abuse. The Oversight and Accountability Committee, chaired by Rep. James Comer (R-KY), will examine “instances of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement” of the federal government. Recipients of federal funds should be on alert for possibly scrutiny. The Committee will also focus on federal financial management, with a particular interest in the Department of Defense.
- Government Contracting. The Committee highlights oversight of government contracting to “ensure there is appropriate management of taxpayer funds.” Where the Committee is examining the federal government’s procurement decisions, it is highly likely that companies involved in the procurement process will be subject to Committee inquiries.
- Cybersecurity and the Private Sector. The Committee emphasizes its continued concern with “the increasing number of cyberattacks” and will ensure “corporate entities take appropriate steps to protect private- and public- sector networks and information systems that are critical to the nation’s infrastructure and security, and the personal information of all Americans.” This tracks Congress’s growing concern with cybersecurity incidents at both federal agencies and the private sector in recent years.
- COVID-19 Pandemic and Related Relief Programs. As in the last Congress, the Oversight Committee’s “Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic” will investigate matters relating to the pandemic. Unlike in the last Congress, the Subcommittee will focus in particular on “the origins of the coronavirus pandemic” and how the current Administration responded to the pandemic. In coordination with the full Committee, the Select Subcommittee will also “examine the scope of and reasons for unprecedented levels of fraud and improper payments in COVID-relief programs.”
Committee on the Judiciary
- Aggressive Oversight with New Select Subcommittee. The Judiciary Committee, led by Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH), will undertake aggressive oversight, including through the launch of a new Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. Among other priorities, the Select Subcommittee will examine “how executive branch agencies work with, obtain information from, and provide information to the private sector, non-profit entities, and other government agencies to facilitate action against American citizens.”
- Technology. The Judiciary Committee will investigate “collusion” between the Department of Justice and “Big Tech to censor political speech.” Meanwhile, the Subcommittee on the Administrative State, Regulatory Reform, and Antitrust’s focus will include examining how “Tech platforms use their market power to silence free speech online.”
- Department of Justice. The Committee will probe the Department of Justice, including: “political bias within the FBI’s senior leadership”; “target[ing] parents resisting far-left educational curriculum”; “politicization of criminal investigations and prosecutorial decisions”; and “unprecedented and aggressive law-enforcement tactics against political opponents of the Biden Administration.” Some companies that interact heavily with the Department of Justice or other law enforcement agencies could receive document requests or questions regarding their communications with government officials.
- Immigration and Border Security. The Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement will examine “how the Biden Administration’s immigration and border security-related policies have incentivized illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and crime.” While the focus will be on the Administration, companies with government contracts related to immigration and industries that rely on immigration in building out their employee base may face scrutiny.
Committee on Energy and Commerce
- Health Care Costs. The Committee on Energy and Commerce, led by Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), identifies health care costs as an area of oversight focus. In particular, the Committee is interested in how the interaction of regulation, legislation, and private industry affect health care costs and price transparency, in particular mentioning “pharmacy benefit managers” and “provider consolidation.”
- Privacy and Data Security. The Committee will examine how businesses and service providers collect information “about Americans and the potential for improving protection and security of such data, without undercutting innovative uses that benefit Americans and the economy, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.”
- Technology. Like the Judiciary Committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee will also “conduct oversight of social media and technology companies’ policies and procedures regulating publication, appeals processes regarding censorship and deplatforming, censorship, handling of claimed misinformation, and the government’s role in these policies and procedures.” The Oversight Plan specifically mentions “companies with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party.”
- Energy Issues and Climate Change. The Committee is focused on the energy sector and its role in the economy, national security, and foreign affairs. The Committee will “conduct oversight over the impact the administration’s energy policies are having on supply chains” and “domestic production of energy.” The Committee will also investigate issues related to climate change, including “monitor[ing] international negotiations” and domestic regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Companies should expect inquiries related to their own environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) initiatives.
- China. As previously discussed, China is a major focus of the House’s oversight efforts, and the Energy and Commerce Committee is no different. The Committee is concerned with “increasing dependence on China and the Chinese Communist Party.” The Committee also mentions “facilities controlled by China” as part of its oversight of the Department of Energy’s “grant and loan programs that fund production in foreign” jurisdictions.
- Domestic Manufacturing. The Committee will “conduct oversight of the Department of Commerce and complementary or conflicting Federal efforts to promote U.S. manufacturing,” including for semiconductors and microelectronics, artificial intelligence, and blockchain technologies.
- Infrastructure and the Private Sector. Infrastructure was a particular focus of the last Congress, and the Committee will continue that effort, including examining “the roles and responsibilities of the private sector, which owns and operates the bulk of the nation’s critical infrastructure assets.”
- Fentanyl. The Committee will also investigate “the role of social media in facilitating fentanyl distribution throughout the U.S., particularly in transactions involving minors.” Fentanyl and its impact on American families has seen renewed congressional oversight, which we expect to extend beyond just the Energy and Commerce Committee, including to the Committee on Homeland Security.
Committee on Financial Services
- Corporate Governance, ESG. The Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), will “review development and issues concerning corporate governance at public companies and the SEC’s proposals that seek to modernize corporate governance practices.”
- Financial Institutions. The Committee will also investigate the stability of financial institutions, including regulators’ “safety and soundness supervision of the banking, thrift, and credit union industries, to ensure that systemic risks or other structural weaknesses in the financial sector” are addressed. We expect emerging financial technologies, including cryptocurrencies and products incorporating blockchain technologies, to be of particular interest to the Committee.
- Pandemic Relief. Like other committees, Financial Services will investigate the Executive Branch’s administration of pandemic relief funds, including programs and funding provided via implementation of the CARES Act, American Rescue Plan Act, and Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
Though separate from the House’s oversight plans, the Democrat-led Senate will conduct its own aggressive oversight—as it has already begun to do with multiple information and document requests issued to companies. We have previously highlighted that divided control of Congress leads to an exceptionally active congressional oversight environment, as both parties pursue divergent policy and political objectives through high-profile investigations.
Clients and industries affected by the investigative priorities outlined above should begin preparing for expected oversight now.
If you have any questions concerning the material discussed in this client alert, please contact the members of our Election & Political Law, Congressional Investigations, and Public Policy practices.