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Ron Johnson introduces bill on government waste

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (left) on Thursday unveiled a package of bills to tackle government waste. He is being challenged in his re-election bid by Democrat Russ Feingold.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (left) on Thursday unveiled a package of bills to tackle government waste. He is being challenged in his re-election bid by Democrat Russ Feingold. Credit: AP

From streamlining the sale of federal property to making permanent a ban on federally funded oil portraits, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson introduced a legislative package Thursday to take on government waste, fraud and abuse.

The bill is called the BADGER Washington Act, or, more formally, the Bolster Accountability to Drive Government Efficiency and Reform Washington Act.

The package includes 19 bipartisan bills that have been voted out of the committee Johnson chairs, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Johnson, a Republican from Oshkosh, is in a tough re-election fight against former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat.

During the campaign, Johnson has stressed his role as a fiscal conservative taking on big-government spending. But he has also been eager to tell voters that he has tried to work in a bipartisan fashion on the committee he leads.

“I want to ensure that all the important work this committee has done to reduce wasteful spending and to make the federal government more efficient and effective for the American people does not fall by the wayside,” Johnson said in a statement. “We may disagree on the proper size of the federal government, but we all agree that what government we have must be more efficient, effective and accountable.”

Johnson said committee members have been working for “years to try to pass some of these reforms, only to be blocked by the undisclosed concerns of one or two dissenters. It’s time these bipartisan, common-sense proposals get a public discussion and a vote.”

Among the provisions, the bill would improve federal property management and establish a board to reduce the size of the government’s property inventory.

The Office of Management and Budget would be required to create a complete list of federal programs, while agencies would be aided to coordinate and address duplicative programs.

There are also expanded whistleblower protections for employees and strengthened independence for inspectors general.

To cut wasteful spending, the bill would stop improper payments to deceased people by expanding agency access to the death master file maintained by the Social Security Administration and prohibit bonuses to federal employees who have engaged in misconduct.

In a small yet symbolic move, the bill would make permanent a ban on taxpayer-funded oil paintings of government officials, including the president and members of Congress. The prohibition was initially put in the 2014 spending bill and provides a cost savings of around $500,000 annually.

Feingold spokesman Michael Tyler said: “If Senator Johnson actually listened to Wisconsinites, he’d know that they want a leader who protects taxpayer dollars in a way that prioritizes their needs over those of corporate interests. You can’t just do your job (only) when your re-election is on the line; the people of Wisconsin are smarter than that.”

Meanwhile Thursday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has asked his backers to support Feingold’s Senate bid.

Feingold has not endorsed Sanders or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and refused to say who he voted for in Wisconsin’s April primary. Feingold has said he will back whoever is nominated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bill Glauber is a general assignment reporter, focusing on profiles and politics.

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