Keeping Order in The House

Former Chief Administrative Officer Shares Insights

Posted April 14, 2008 at 4:18pm

Right before the 2006 midterm elections, publishers started knocking on Scot Faulkner’s door. They were anticipating the end of Republican control in Congress and wanted Faulkner, who became the first Chief Administrative Officer of the House in 1995, to write about his experiences leading reforms during that era.

By the time the publishers asked, Faulkner already was half finished with the book, which he started writing almost a decade before.

“What had occurred was incredibly important to American history because it was a major effort to change,” he said.

The final product — “Naked Emperors: The Failure of the Republican Revolution” —

provides an eyewitness account of the Republican Party’s attempt to make Congress more open and accountable.

Faulkner was hired by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) as the first CAO of the chamber, and he led some of the most significant management reforms in history.

Following the 1994 elections, there was great potential for the party to fully reform “18th-century” tools and processes for keeping Congress in order, Faulkner wrote.

For example, many documents, such as inventories, were kept on handwritten pages that made them more susceptible to accounting errors.

“It started to blow our minds when we found out stuff was handwritten,” Faulkner said. “We saw it and said, ‘This is nuts.’ Someone in the Continental Congress would have felt comfortable there.”

Faulkner said his business-based reforms increased integrity and efficiency in the House and saved more than $148 million. Harvard University and the Ford Foundation named the changes as one of the top 100 innovations in American government at the time.

Although full-fledged reform did not come to fruition during the Republican era, Faulkner said he thinks the Democratic majority in the House is continuing the efforts he started. He still sees room for improvement, though.

In “Naked Emperors,” Faulkner recalls suggesting that Congressional expenditures be placed online so constituents could search them. To his surprise, he met with political resistance.

“I think that some people in their heart of hearts really don’t want [openness],” Faulkner said in an interview. “It’s not a technology issue; it’s obviously not a budget issue. There are some people who would prefer to keep it so that it’s just the lobbyists and Congressmen.”

Faulkner thinks that as more officials come into Congress with experience from technologically advanced local and state governments, Congress will be more open to integrating technology that allows for transparency, such as live online broadcasting of both hearings and meetings. Putting everything on the Internet — which Faulkner said has been proposed since 1995 — would help bring Congress into the 21st century.

It also would allow for government to be more accessible to citizens, which is an issue Faulkner is very passionate about. Citizen, his blog, discusses uses of technology in opening government and increasing its accessibility. The broad intent is to encourage people to hold their elected officials accountable, he said.

That’s one of Faulkner’s messages he tried to give in the final chapters of “Naked Emperors.” His intent in describing what happened during the Republican era, he said, was was to give people a sense of hope that reform could continue.

Faulkner said he hopes the issue of reform makes its way into the 2008 presidential election. For him, it’s not about party affiliation, but about open government.

“In this day and age, party affiliation is less and less important,” Faulkner said. “People embracing good government and reaching out to the people should be getting our votes.”