Transparency According to Carol Browner: "Put nothing in writing, ever???

“Put nothing in writing, ever,” sounds like a command a veteran CIA official may give to an incoming class of new officers.  One would not expect such a directive to issue from one of the President’s trusted advisors, especially from a White House that proudly proclaims itself to be the most transparent in history.  But according to various media reports, that “cloak and dagger” tactic was Energy and Climate Change Czar Carol Browner’s underlying rule for auto industry executives involved with secret negotiations concerning the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.  Yet, we should not be surprised about her oral-communication-only policy, since she has apparently learned from her past mistakes.

Browner’s aversion to written notes can be traced back to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in the waning days of the Clinton administration.  On January 19, 2001, a district court issued a preliminary injunction, ordering that “the Environmental Protection Agency and its agents and employees are enjoined from transporting, removing or in any way tampering with information” potentially responsive to a pending FOIA request.  In spite of the judge’s order, outgoing EPA Administrator Browner instructed an EPA technician to erase all of her email and to wipe the hard drive clean.  Two years later, a judge ruled against EPA in this matter and held that “EPA acted in contempt of the Court’s order.” 

The punishment, a fine to the Bush administration EPA, was handed down long after Browner’s departure.  She escaped charges of her own, a dodge that amounts to less than a slap on the wrist for willfully destroying information.  It is also quite unfortunate that Van Jones, the former Green Jobs Czar, avoided congressional scrutiny and could not be questioned on his alarming associations with the so-called “9/11 truther” movement or on his radical leanings.

Because Browner serves as a Czar, she has not been subject to the customary Senate confirmation hearing in which her philosophy on transparency could be examined.  This circumvention is wholly unacceptable, especially given Browner’s wide-ranging legislative portfolio and influence within the administration. 

She was the Obama administration’s point person for a massive economy-killing national energy tax in the form of a cap-and-trade scheme.  Thankfully, the American people did not fall prey to the administration’s climate gimmicks and had their voices heard at town halls across America last summer.  Cap-and-tax has since met its demise in the Senate. 

If Browner were a Bush administration appointee, you can bet that Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), a tenacious, partisan investigator, would have conducted vigorous inquiries and eviscerations surrounding such allegations.  Unfortunately, we have not seen the same zeal for executive branch oversight from the Democratic majority this session of Congress.  In fact, over the past two years, Browner has NEVER testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee—not one single time.  Given her extensive influence within the administration, one would think Waxman would want to hear her at some point. 

Given her absence from Capitol Hill for the last two years, there is little doubt that she will surely become a familiar face with Republicans in charge.  We have questions, and the American people deserve answers.  The free pass of zero-accountability for Obama Czars will soon end.

House Republicans pledge to conduct vigorous oversights of the Obama administration next year if the American people entrust us with the Majority.  With Republicans at the helm and exercising its authority to oversee activities of the executive branch, we will restore the public trust and subject this White House and its dozens of czars to the scrutiny that taxpaying Americans expect and deserve. 

Ms. Browner, I ask on behalf of the American people that you refrain from destroying documents or instructing any other key stakeholders involved in a landmark negotiation to “put nothing in writing.”  We will be watching.