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Oversight's Issa Opens Online Cattle Call for Nettlesome Regs

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, January 25 2011

It's quite nearly a poetic setting. Chairman Darrell Issa stands amidst the wreckage of an Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing room under renovation to make a pitch for the House's chief watchdog body to take up a new, tech-savvy way of doing business on Capitol Hill.

"To get our job right," says the chairman in the video, posted to YouTube, and directed to business owners, "we need help from you -- American's proven job creation experts. Would you be willing to tell us about your experience?" A beat. "We're listening."

Listening, in that the southern Californian congressman, who took up the leadership of the Oversight Committee during the changeover in House power earlier this month, has along with his staff worked up a quickie online form through which, they say, they hope to collect details from American businessfolk on what sorts of federal regulations are making it more difficult than necessary for them to keep on making jobs.

It's up on, a signal that Issa and his staff aren't paying much mind to the debate that flares up periodically about whether Congress can use .com domains. The site's backend runs on JotForm, a third-party service which bills itself "the easiest form builder."

Why Issa's online open call for offending federal regs? "There's lost of licking fingers and sticking them in the wind," says Issa's director of online strategy and press secretary Seamus Kraft of your more traditional approaches to oversight work. "Everybody has business roundtables. Everybody does outreach. But most of the time that's just collecting high-level concerns." Issa got some blowback from liberal quarters recently for writing letters to a 150 or so companies, trade associations, and think tanks to ask for feedback on how oversight should proceed.

Data is data, says Kraft. And Issa wants much of it. "Get as specific as you like," he says in his YouTube promo spot. To that end, the site is ready to accept extended notes in PDF and Microsoft Word form.

Issa has been busy framing a "transparency through technology" approach to doing the committee's work, and Kraft says that they've offered to set up any member of the House of any party with their own way of hearing from business owners via the Internet. They've even, said Kraft, reached out to Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee.

Cummings's office didn't respond yesterday to a request for comment on whether they'll be taking up Issa on his offer. But, if you're a betting person, well... Issa and Cummings's offices have been locked in a verbal battle over the direction of the committee. The Democrat recently sent the new chairman a letter that -- citing Issa's approach to the basics of oversight work like issuing subpoenas and giving the minority access to investigative documents -- raised the specter of the old years when Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana ran the show, a time during which the Washington Post editorialized that the committee had become "its own cartoon, a joke, and a deserved embarrassment."

So it's probably safe to say that Cummings isn't running out and buying a companion domain name anytime soon.