The latest dust up between top GOP oversight official California Rep. Darrell Issa and his combative new foil on the oversight panel, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, has Cummings attacking Issa for the breadth of a new inquiry into how the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is working across a slew of federal agencies.
“I cannot even begin to imagine how much paper, how much work, and how much overtime this is going to cost the Federal Government,” said Cummings spokesman Paul Kincaid last week in an e-mail.
But Issa’s communications director, Frederick Hill, was nonplussed. Asked how Issa is assessing his relationship with Cummings, the newly appointed top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, Hill said “I think the short and long is, we’re really not.”
In the last Congress what top committee Democrat Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York, then-committee chairman, did “really mattered,” Hill said, “sometimes you would get to the point where the only way you could advance that is with a subpoena or if you got the chairman to join you on a letter.”
Now, Issa is chairman and can proceed without the approval of Cummings. “All these projects that Congressman Cummings has criticized, they haven’t affected us,” Hill said, “Chairman Issa is still able to continue oversight.”
The reason is the congressional subpoena power Issa now holds, which grants virtually unlimited authority to demand documents from the Obama administration and compel testimony by key officials.
Issa’s new FOIA inquiry is quite broad.
The request asks for a list of every single FOIA request received by 180 separate government offices over the last five years.
Further, for most unanswered FOIA requests, Issa is asking for all correspondence between the person or organization that requested the documents and the federal agency that failed to fulfill the request.
Cummings spokesman Kincaid argued the issue is not pressing. “Is this SERIOUSLY the biggest problem he believes this nation has?” he said.
Hill pointed to an ongoing Issa inquiry into a Department of Homeland Security policy established by the Obama administration to have political appointees review FOIA requests from lawmakers, interest groups and journalists.
Issa is investigating “to ensure that political interference with the FOIA process is not widespread at the federal agencies,” according to a Jan. 14 letter from Issa to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
“Certainly that’s something that we’re aware of,” Hill said.
He also dismissed complaints about whether oversight of the FOIA process should be a priority.
“It’s a large process, lots of resources across agencies are devoted to it,” Hill said.
“What’s particularly ironic about that argument is that’s the same argument some people could make about why there shouldn’t be FOIA access. ‘Geez it’s going to take so much time to get this information together,’” Hill said.