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Congressman Otis Pike Leaves Good Government Legacy

Otis Pike

Former Rep. Otis G. Pike

Former Rep. Otis G. Pike, who pushed to hold intelligence agencies accountable and battled wasteful government spending during his 18 years in Congress, passed away Monday. Mr. Pike was 92.

Mr. Pike moved on to politics after spending time in the Marine Corps and as a lawyer. He was elected in 1960 to represent N.Y.’s 1st district. He was well-known on the House floor not only for his persistent condemnation of overspending, but also the clever, charismatic way he presented his ideas to Congress.

From his Washington Post obituary:

In 1973, Mr. Pike was credited with single-handedly grounding a $14 million program that awarded extra pay for flight duty to generals and admirals who never piloted anything more aerodynamic than a desk at the Pentagon.

Standing on the floor of the House with his arms outstretched like a plane in flight, Mr. Pike used mockery to plead his case.

“If the in-basket is continually loaded on the starboard, or right-hand, side of the desk, and the out-basket is continually empty on the port, or left-hand, side of the desk,” said Mr. Pike, who flew 120 missions as a Marine pilot in World War II, “wood fatigue sets in, the landing gear tends to buckle and the whole fuselage crashes down on your feet.”

As the chamber echoed with laughter, the flight-pay policy was abolished.

Mr. Pike gained national  attention in 1975 as leader of the Pike Committee, which called for greater transparency in the CIA after findings of abuse in the agency’s clandestine operations. During the tense committee hearings, TIME magazine said Mr. Pike was “the model of a properly pugnacious public servant — sharp-tongued and not easily intimidated.”

The causes Mr. Pike supported are as relevant today as they were when he was serving, said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project On Government Oversight. “He was exactly the kind of congressional overseer we desperately need today to get Congress working again,” she said.

Indeed, one of Mr. Pike’s more clever speeches before Congress could easily be mistaken as having come out of the mouths of one of today’s members.

From the Washington Post:

While speaking out against what he considered outlandish defense spending during the Vietnam War, Mr. Pike cited the example of small metal rods with a retail cost of 50 cents. The Pentagon, which bought them for $25.55 apiece, described them as “precision shafting.”

“For once,” Mr. Pike declared on the House floor, “the American taxpayer got precisely what he paid for.”

This past year, POGO reported that not much has changed with  government contractors overcharging the Department of Defense (DoD). A DoD Inspector General report revealed that aircraft landing gear devices worth $10 each were sold by Boeing to the Pentagon for $2,286.

Decades later, Mr. Pike’s mission is far from complete, but his passion and persistence serve as a model as we continue the difficult but important fight against government waste.

Image from the U.S. Congress.

By: Avery Kleinman
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Avery Kleinman Avery Kleinman is the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Government Accountability

Related Content: Miscellaneous

Authors: Avery Kleinman

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