Obscure rule aids Democrats in getting information from agencies

House Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has long been known as a dogged investigator of what he sees as governmental abuses of power, and he has become an avid and vocal critic of the Bush administration.

Since President Bush took office, however, Waxman increasingly has employed another tool in his arsenal -- the "seven member rule."

An obscure provision of a 1928 law, the rule states that if any seven members of the House Government Reform Committee -- or its predecessor, the Government Operations Committee -- collectively request information from an agency under the committee's oversight, the agency must turn the information over. In 70 years, the provision had been applied only sporadically, but Waxman has invoked the rule six times since 1998 -- three times in the past year alone.

Waxman said he sees the rule as more of a last resort.

"We've written letters and gotten no response," he said. "[Minority members] have no subpoena powers. The Republicans who run this committee aren't going to subpoena. The only tool we have left is the 'seven member rule.'"

Most recently, Waxman used the provision to demand information regarding the administration's cost estimates for the recently passed Medicare bill, which may have understated the cost of the bill's benefits by as much as $139 billion. So far, the administration has ignored Waxman's March 15 deadline for providing the information. Waxman sent another letter this week, extending the deadline to March 26.

Waxman also invoked the rule in January to obtain communications between the administration and energy lobbyists during negotiations on the energy bill last fall. And last June, he used the provision to seek information on how the Homeland Security Department tracked Democratic state legislators in Texas who fled the state during the debate on congressional redistricting.

In May 2001, Waxman used the rule to obtain adjusted Census figures that he believed showed an original undercount of minority citizens. After the administration failed to release the numbers, Waxman sued the Commerce Department -- the first instance of the "seven member rule" being used in court. The administration challenged the rule, but the Commerce Department ultimately turned over the figures before an appellate judge ruled on the provision.

Unique to the House Government Reform panel, Waxman said the "seven member rule" aids his committee's role in overseeing the federal government.

"Because it's a committee for oversight, we've had it enshrined into law that the party in the minority can still get some information if seven members insist upon it."

So far, though, Waxman's use of the rule has yielded mixed results. Asked about the ultimate effectiveness of the provision, Waxman said, "We'll see." But he said as long as the administration continues to "stonewall" congressional requests for information, he will continue to invoke the rule. "We shouldn't have to resort to the 'seven member rule' to get information from them," he said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.