WASHINGTON - House Majority Leader Tom DeLay told House colleagues Thursday that abused and neglected children "are dying and it's our fault'' because programs designed to protect them are overlapping and ineffective.
Testifying from the dais in a House Government Reform Committee, DeLay said government agencies could be reorganized more quickly if Congress cedes to President Bush the authority to do the work.
Congress for decades has appropriated more and more money and created dozens of programs, bureaus and agencies to address child protection, he said. Many are redundant, funded with different pots of money and may not be working.
DeLay, R-Texas, said the problem of abused and neglected children "is real and it's acute and the response at the state and especially the federal level has been reactive and clumsy.''
He said a White House task force on disadvantaged youth identified 339 federal programs that are charged with helping children in some way; 13 federal agencies administer more than 120 programs that provide mentoring.
"Kids are dying and it's our fault,'' said DeLay, who has raised three foster children.
Committee chairman Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., backed the expedited reorganization proposal, saying children wait years for Congress to pass legislation or make changes to bureaucracies assigned to protect them.
"These are years children cannot afford to lose,'' Davis said.
His staff had set up flow charts of the departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, Agriculture and Education, to show the numerous bureaus, offices and agencies with some sort of program for children.
But Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the committee's ranking Democrat, cautioned against Congress turning over such power to the executive branch.
Waxman said that while he disagreed with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, he was glad Congress had an active role in its creation. He also questioned the effect on civil service employees of giving up government reorganization authority.
"Many federal employees view reorganization as just another assault on the civil servant . . . This perception is an unfortunate legacy of recent administration action,'' Waxman said. "We must find a way to address the genuine concern of federal employees as we consider any future reorganization proposals.''
Waxman agreed that reform is needed in overlapping programs and that child welfare agencies need to better coordinate their services.
Congress has been examining government effectiveness since a special panel led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker released a report on the issue.
Providing the president expedited reorganization authority was one of the commission's recommendations. The commission said that was the most efficient way for the federal government to keep pace with demands placed on it. The president previously had this authority, but it lapsed in 1984.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's nonvoting delegate in Congress, said the administration has been able to pull off a major government reorganization, merging 22 agencies in the Department of Homeland Security, without the power recommended by the commission.
"We don't understand how all this wisdom could reside in one branch, leaving oversight of the other branch to an up and down vote. There is tremendous skepticism here,'' she said.
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