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.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

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

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

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