Whether it’s due to the Trump administration’s sluggishness in filling vacancies or some more deliberate form of secrecy, agencies receiving oversight inquiries from lawmakers of both parties appear to be behind on their correspondence.
On Thursday, ranking members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee joined with counterparts on the Senate Environment and Public Works panel in a letter to acting General Services Administration chief Tim Horne protesting an agency decision in January to break tradition and answer only those inquires that come from the majority members of congressional panels.
“Under the Obama administration, the GSA administrator responded to requests for information from ranking members of such congressional committees regardless of whether the ranking member was a Democrat or a Republican,” wrote Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Hank Johnson, D-Ga., along with Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Ben Cardin, D-Md. “Under the Trump administration, the GSA policy appears to be to respond to Republican chairmen but not Democratic ranking members.”
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The Democrats warned, “We regard this as a serious breach of protocol and an abdication of your responsibility to run an open and transparent independent agency on behalf of the American people.”
Since the inauguration, these Democrats have sent a total of seven letters to GSA requesting information on such issues as the “breach of the terms of the Old Post Office lease agreement and the conflicts of interest raised by President Trump’s role as both landlord and tenant of the Old Post Office building.” Responses have been either “inadequate” or nonexistent, the lawmakers, said, setting April 11 as the deadline for new responses.
They also asked GSA to explain whether it has officially adopted a new policy of not responding to inquiries from minority committee members in Congress, and whether the White House or other agencies were involved in the change.
That letter to GSA came three weeks after a group of Senate Democrats released a list of 107 oversight letters “the Trump administration has refused to answer” on such issues as Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, Trump’s potential conflicts of interest, his travel ban and policies on health care, jobs and the environment.
During the annual Sunshine Week in March, Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Patty Murray of Washington, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called on President Trump “to take steps to ensure greater transparency throughout his administration.”
Also, on March 17, House Democrats on the Democracy Reform Task Force released an audit showing that more than 100 letters to Trump administration officials had gone unanswered.
During the Obama administration, many Republicans complained about slow responses to document requests from the Internal Revenue Service, the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency during congressional probes.
But under Trump, frustration with silence from agencies also extends to Republicans. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has used his Twitter account to implore President Trump to order agencies to reply to all congressional inquiries, a blog post by the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight noted on Thursday. POGO “urges the Trump administration to quickly fill vacant congressional affairs positions, and to rise above his predecessor’s example by responding promptly to Congress’ letters,” the nonprofit said.