The Obama administration has blown off the House Republican majority in the GOP’s first major investigation of government wrongdoing, in a move that may set the tone for future inquiries.
The Department of Homeland Security failed to meet a deadline set by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., to turn over documents in his probe of political review of Freedom of Information Act requests.
|Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
Issa, in a rapid-fire exchange of letters this week, revealed that DHS’s Office of the General Counsel “instructed career staff in the Privacy Office not to search for documents responsive to my request.”
“This directive is inconsistent with your pledge to identify and produce documents expeditiously, and it raises questions about the Department’s commitment to the President’s efforts to create ‘an unprecedented level of openness in Government,” Issa said in a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Issa then upped the ante by demanding the immediate release of e-mails between the White House and DHS concerning political review of Freedom of Information Act requests and to make available for “transcribed interviews” six top DHS officials involved in the matter.
Those six are Noah Kroloff, chief of staff to Napolitano, Amy Shlossman, deputy chief of staff, John Sandweg, chief of staff to the General Counsel, Mary Ellen Callahan, chief privacy officer, Catherine Papoi, deputy chief FOIA Officer, and Mark Dorgan senior FOIA specialist.
The Oversight Committee probe stems from a July 2010 story by the Associated Press that said Freedom of Information Act requests to DHS were being “vetted by political appointees.”
“Specifically, the AP reported that DHS political appointees required requests from ‘lawmakers, journalists, activist groups or watchdog organizations … to go to the political appointees’ for review, and they routinely probed ‘for information about the requesters and delay[ed] disclosures deemed too politically sensitive,’” Issa said in a Jan. 14 letter to Napolitano. “In the case of requests from Congress, DHS employees were told to specify the party affiliation of the requester.”
Responding to that letter, Nelson Peacock, Assistant Secretary, Office of Legislative Affairs, said it has been standard practice since the creation of DHS to “provide notice to senior leadership of significant FOIA requests.”
Other DHS officials told House Oversight committee staff in September that “political appointees reviewed FOIA response letters to spot check for typos and other grammatical errors but did not otherwise edit, redact, or delay their release” and that political appointees were not inappropriately interfering.
However, Issa wrote that the document request made January 14 was prompted by his staff obtaining “material that called into question the statements supplied by the Department during the September briefing.” He did not elaborate on what that material might be.
Issa called “misleading” a claim that DHS has made public thousands of pages of documents and participated in several interviews and briefings regarding the FOIA requests. “To date, DHS has produced six pages of documents and provided one briefing to this committee,” he wrote.
In closing, Issa demanded the release of documents previously provided to the Office of Inspector General, the AP, and other congressional offices, e-mails between DHS personnel and the White House, and e-mails from DHS front office personnel regarding FOIA.
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