Oregon Rep. Walden: The GOP's Go-To Guy Incoming House Speaker John Boehner has asked the GOP transition team to pore over every single rule, procedure and routine the House and its leaders follow -- and figure out what can be done better. The man leading the effort is Oregon Rep. Greg Walden.
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Oregon Rep. Walden: The GOP's Go-To Guy

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Oregon Rep. Walden: The GOP's Go-To Guy

Oregon Rep. Walden: The GOP's Go-To Guy

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Speaker Boehner will be the new title of Ohio Republican John Boehner in the new session of Congress. Last week, Mr. Boehner's colleagues elected him to lead the Republicans' new majority come January. There's a lot of work to do before he takes the gavel. There's offices to move, signs to paint, agendas to write, calendars to build. It's a flurry of work - in the midst of which Republicans says they are implementing their campaign promises of trying to making the House more transparent and accountable to the voters they represent.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports now on the man who's tackling that job - six term Oregon Congressman Greg Walden.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Unless you're from Oregon, you might not have heard of Greg Walden. Until recently, he was just another congressman - one of 435. Well, he did make headlines briefly about a year ago when he was the first member of Congress to catch swine flu. He recovered just fine. Now Walden is a rising star in the party that will run the House under Speaker John Boehner.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): I just got an update from Greg Walden, who's chairing our transition effort, on the progress that they're making.

SEABROOK: Just a few days after the election, Boehner introduced Walden to the media horde eager to snap photos of the speaker-in-waiting. Boehner said over the last year Walden has become his go-to guy and that's why he chose him to head up the Republicans' majority transition team.

Rep. BOEHNER: This is really important because we've got to fix the Congress so that the Congress can focus in on Americans' priorities.

SEABROOK: It's a big job. Boehner asked the team to pore over every single rule, procedure, and routine the House and its leaders follow - looking for better, more efficient ways to run the Congress. Can they make the House schedule more compact? Put staff announcements online rather than printing stacks of memos? Mow the grass less often? Walden steps up to the cluster of cameras and mics and says the thing that's always at the front of his mind is that this is the people's House.

Representative GREG WALDEN (Republican, Oregon): How do we open it up? How do we make it more accessible? How do we bring the public in? How do we return this government back to the people?

SEABROOK: Walden says he wants to create new ways for citizens to interact with the Congress over the Internet. One of the House Republican's pre-election pledges was to post all bills online for three days before they're taken to the House floor.

Heading the transition team puts Walden in the media spotlight more than ever before and he seems comfortable with that. He has an easy humor - like when a photographer knocks over a stanchion.

Rep. WALDEN: How do we reform this process? How do we get at the cost savings we all know can be achieved here? How do we make...

(Soundbite of knocking)

Rep. WALDEN: How do we fix broken cameras? How do we...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. WALDEN: How do we do the things that you would reform if you were in charge?

SEABROOK: There's a reason he's not spooked by the media scrum and here's a clue.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Rep. WALDEN: Arctic First Federal Savings and Loan time in 15 seconds will be 10:00, temperature downtown Fairbanks, 45 below zero. You're listening to the Mighty Ninety, KFRB, Fairbanks.

SEABROOK: That's how Greg Walden sounded in the mid-'70s. Later, he and his wife bought two small radio stations and increased their chain to five, before he sold them a few years ago. Walden likes to point out that he's done everything from signing the paychecks to fixing the transmitter cable. And running a small business, he said, prepared him for the job he's doing today.

Now, Walden says Republican leaders aren't ready to reveal specific changes yet. But, he says, the proof of their sincerity and genuine desire for changing Washington will be the answer to these questions in a year's time.

Rep. WALDEN: Did we improve the process? Did we reduce the rancor? Did we make the place more efficient and transparent and open? It is the public's business, by the way. Did we open it up to more scrutiny by the press and the public? Did we accomplish these things? And we will have done an incredible turn around.

SEABROOK: Every new majority comes in saying we're going to run this place differently, we've just been in the minority, we've been shut out.

Rep. WALDEN: Mm-hmm.

SEABROOK: So why should we think this will be any different?

Rep. WALDEN: We have to prove ourselves. We have to prove ourselves.

SEABROOK: Walden is going out of his way to collect recommendations for improvement. He's put an anonymous suggestions box outside the door of the transition team's office and he's even asked the press to drop by with ideas. That's something no leader in recent history has done, but maybe Walden doesn't feel so different from the Capitol's journalists, since he's an old radio guy himself.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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