Oversight OversightOversight
Dispatches from Capitol Hill and the executive branch

Shell to forego Arctic exploratory drilling until 2013

Shell will not conduct exploratory drilling in the Arctic this summer, the company said late on Sunday, after a containment dome was damaged during a final test of the system. 

"In order to lay a strong foundation for operations in 2013, we will forgo drilling into hydrocarbon zones this year," Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said in an email. "Instead, we will begin as many wells, known as ‘top holes,’ as time remaining in this season allows."

While the company has received permits to begin preliminary work in the Arctic, it has been struggling to get its oil spill response barge, called Arctic Challenger, certified in order to get final drilling permits for the controversial project. The company successfully completed a series of tests for the containment system in the last several days, but during a final test, the containment dome abroad the Arctic Challenger was damaged, op de Weegh said.

The time it would take to repair that damage and the accommodations the company is making for local whaling operations means that Shell had to revise and scale back its 2012-2013 exploration program, she said.  

Conflicting accounts: Was attack in Libya coordinated or spontaneous?

As the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community investigate the attack in Libya that killed four American diplomats, debate rages over whether it was a planned attack or spontaneous violence.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, maintained on Sunday that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was not planned by terrorist groups. She said the attack spun out of protests, which were sparked by an anti-Islamic video produced in the U.S.

“This was not a pre-planned, pre-meditated attack,” she said on Fox News Sunday. “What happened initially was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent. People with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons—which, unfortunately, are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya—and that then spun out of control.”

However, Rep. Mike Rogers, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, said the evidence pointed in the other direction, citing the style and coordination of the attack.

“I think it’s too early to make that conclusion,” Rogers said on the same show. “The way that the attack took place, I...

Bill to stop vets from falsifying military honors passes House

The House passed a bill Thursday night that criminalizes military personnel for forging military service medals to obtain payment or benefits, the Associated Press reported.

The Stolen Valor Act, passed in a 410-3 vote, circumvents the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision on the subject. The new law would make it illegal for people to falsify military honors with the intention of receiving monetary rewards or benefits.  

The Supreme Court overturned the 2006 Stolen Valor Act in late June, saying that veterans falsely wearing military honors were protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment free speech rights. In that decision, the court did leave open the possibility for the government to prosecute veterans who use false honors to accrue monetary or other benefits.

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., introduced a similar bill in the Senate and told the AP he would continue working on this issue until the act of falsifying this information is illegal.

In July, the Defense Department created a database, Valor.defense.gov, to help track military honors recipients. Senior Defense officials had said during a congressional hearing in February that such a database would be hard to create and maintain. Following its creation, Undersecretary of Defense...

After next week, House stopping work until election

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced on Friday that, after next week, the House won’t be returning to session until after the Nov. 6 elections.

A planned one-week session in Washington at the start of October has been scrapped. That means when the House adjourns next Friday, the chamber will not be scheduled to cast any votes again until Nov. 13.

Speaking on the House floor, Cantor said that the decision for House members not to return to the Capitol in October has been made given the Senate’s anticipated passage next week of a bill to keep government running beyond the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year, a bill already passed on Thursday in the House.

The House still plans to hold its session next week as scheduled, starting next Wednesday evening, through Friday. One bill Republicans plan to bring to the floor next week would create a new green-card category for foreigners who have received doctorate degrees from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering, and math (the so-called STEM disciplines).

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., responded on the floor with some incredulity, saying that although there remains much legislation left to be completed, Cantor...

Play of the Day -- The Fight for the White House

The late-night hosts reverted for the most part back to the race, or fight, for the White House, but Conan O'Brien veered off the beaten path due to a surprise visit from Christopher Kringle.

Today's Must See Moment -- Fast forward to 0:57 to see who Americans feel would win in a fist fight between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Lawmakers scramble to stop sequestration

This story has been updated to reflect that the House passed Rep. Allen West's bill.

Lawmakers are busy trying to delay or avoid altogether the threat of across-the-board budget cuts early in 2013.  

A bipartisan group of senators is working to negotiate a $55 billion down payment that would give Congress an additional six months to negotiate a long-term deal for reducing the deficit, The Hill reported Wednesday.

House members also are devising plans to avert the cuts, known as sequestration and slated to take effect on Jan. 2, 2013.

The House on Thursday passed a bill from Rep. Allen West. R-Fla., aimed at protecting the Defense Department from sequestration. West’s proposed National Security and Jobs Protection Act would force President Obama to come up with an alternative to the defense portion of the cuts. The measure passed 223-196. The Senate still must approve it, and the White House has threatened to veto it, saying it “fails the test of fairness and shared responsibility.”

Both parties have denounced the automatic cuts, which were designed to encourage a bipartisan compromise on reducing the deficit. Many defense contractors were planning to release notices to employees regarding potential job losses close...

Mixed marks for Obama in annual secrecy report card

President Obama’s three-year-old effort to reduce unnecessary government secrecy has produced some historical firsts in transparency, but agency wariness about declassifying national security information has slowed progress toward openness, according to an annual secrecy report card.

The “2012 Secrecy Report” by the nonprofit OpentheGovernment.org, rounds up the latest figures on agency processing of Freedom of Information Act requests, ongoing declassification of documents and handling of whistleblower complaints.

The report applauds the administration for being the first in history to release the intelligence community budget, but it also noted that in June, Obama invoked executive privilege for the first time in his presidency in response to a subpoena issued to the Justice Department by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in a dispute over documents related to the Fast and Furious gun operation allegedly mishandled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

The government also released the number of people who hold security clearances for access to classified information, which increased by 3 percent over the previous year to a new reported high of more than 4.8 million persons as of Oct. 1, 2011. At the same time, the proportion of documents originally determined to...

Play of the Day -- Romney's Troubles and the iPhone 5

The release of the new iPhone 5 garnered much attention from the late-night hosts, but they still found time to poke fun at some of the issues plaguing Mitt Romney's campaign.

Today's Must See Moment -- Fast forward 1:13 to see Apple's exclusive iPhone announcement.

No drama spending bill glides through House panel

In the latest sign that a stopgap spending measure could sail through Congress before the end of next week, the House Rules Committee on Wednesday devoted less than 10 minutes to the legislation that would fund the government for the next six months.

A room usually fraught with tense exchanges and snide one-liners (doled out during the committee's many late-night meetings) saw the top Republican and Democrat of the House Appropriations Committee speak briefly about their bill before being lauded by three Rules Committee members for their efforts. No leading questions, no terse remarks, just some pats on the back before the committee moved on to other business.

The bill's $1.047 trillion annual rate represents an increase of about $8 billion over current spending levels. Conservatives, though, support the bill -- in fact, they pushed for leadership to take it up now rather than risking the possibility that it could become tangled up in larger discussions about taxes and other spending if the measure were to be left for the post-election lame-duck session.

Republicans want to avoid allowing Democrats to use the threat of a government shutdown as leverage against them in the debate over the Bush-era tax...

Obama says Romney shoots first, aims later

In an interview with 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft on Wednesday, President Obama said Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s condemnation of his administration’s response to violence against American embassy workers in Libya and protests in Cairo showed a lack of necessary caution.

“Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later,” Obama said. “And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that — that it’s important for you to make sure that the statements you make are backed up by the facts, and that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make them.”

When asked if Romney’s statement was irresponsible, the president responded, “I’ll let the American people judge that.”

CBS News aired an excerpt from Kroft's interview with Obama Wednesday afternoon.