Democrats accuse White House of ignoring information requests

Senate Democrats charged last week that White House officials have privately told them that the Bush administration will no longer automatically fulfill information and oversight requests from congressional Democrats.

Democratic sources maintain the administration has decided to automatically fulfill requests only from GOP committee and subcommittee chairmen, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

The White House vigorously denied the accusation. "We respond to all congressional inquiries in the appropriate manner," a White House spokesman said. While some Democrats may not be pleased with the response time for their requests, they are not being ignored, the spokesman said.

Although Democrats are still deciding how best to respond, sources said Senate Democrats are preparing a list of unfulfilled or partially filled oversight requests from their members of the Environment and Public Works, Energy and Natural Resources and Commerce committees, among others. That list, once completed, will be made public and could form the centerpiece of Democratic attacks on the administration's information policies, the Democratic source said.

Democrats said Bush administration officials have stymied their oversight efforts for almost two years. For example, one source said, Environment and Public Works ranking member James Jeffords, I-Vt., while chairman of the committee, battled with the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Council on Environmental Quality over the administration's clean air and climate policies.

Jeffords threatened to subpoena EPA and White House officials on at least three separate occasions last year because of the paucity of the information handed over. Similarly, Democrats said, the administration has not provided requested information on its Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil drilling plans.

Senate sources also complain that even when the administration has responded to requests, it has often provided only minimal information. One source cited an instance during Jeffords' tussle with EPA last year over reforms to the administration's New Source Review utility emissions program, where EPA demanded the committee implement new security measures to protect sensitive data. But once the requested measures were in place, EPA only turned over public record documents that did not fulfill the request.

It is unclear whether Democrats can force the administration to be more forthcoming with information. One option that Democrats are considering is an attempt to slash funding for the congressional affairs offices of departments and agencies. That move would not be easy, since Republicans control the House and Senate.