The chairman of the House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform, Republican Darrell Issa of California, meditated on the logo of his office door for a while, and realized there was a lot of oversight that needed doing. He snatched up his phone, called one hundred and eighty federal agency heads, and requested thousands of documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Then he ordered pizza. The pizza got there first.
Actually, I’m not sure if pizza was involved. That’s probably just projection on my part. I can imagine myself as one of Issa’s aides, standing over an extra-large pie with a cup of anchovies in hand. The Congressman grimly surveys the eight-foot wall of documents he’s requested, nods, and says, “Do it.” You know the situation is serious when the anchovies come out.
The problem is that the eight-foot wall of documents isn’t there yet. The Department of Homeland Security has snubbed Issa, treating him like a lousy federal judge striking down ObamaCare on Constitutional grounds. The two-week deadline he set for receiving documents he requested from the DHS has come and gone.
In what Jonathan Strong of the Daily Caller describes as a “forceful response,” Issa sent a letter to Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, pointing out that her commitment to “an unprecedented level of openness in Government,” as promised by President Obama, has thus far resulted in “six pages of documents and one briefing to this Committee.” To add insult to injury, statements made during the briefing apparently didn’t jibe with the documents.
Issa has set a new deadline of high noon on Thursday, February 3, for Napolitano to come up with the papers he requested. A CBS News report on his crusade says he’s especially interested in the way DHS “was turning sensitive Freedom of Information Act Requests over to top political advisers for highly unusual scrutiny.”
There has been some resistance from congressional Democrats. The Hill reports that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has written Issa to explain his request “might increase the already-backlogged agencies’ ability to respond to existing FOIA submissions.” You know what really increases information backlogs? Sending every request through Barack Obama’s political war room first.
“Your requests will produce vast amounts of information, but agency compliance with them could impair FOIA responsiveness to the public,” continued Cummings. What would have higher priority than demands from the chairman of the House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform? And why can’t the thousands of people brought on board during Obama’s crazed federal hiring spree fulfill information requests as efficiently as Amazon handles book downloads to Kindle users?
Here’s a thought: if the government is doing so much that it can’t spare the resources to tell the people what it’s doing in a timely manner, maybe it’s doing too much.
Cummings says there are over 77,000 backlogged FOIA requests. According to the Federal Open Government Guide, the government can charge “reasonable fees for the direct costs of searching for and copying the records” citizens request, typically ranging from $11 to $28 per hour. If the average request takes about an hour to fulfill, the government could generate two or three million dollars of revenue by clearing up that backlog. We’ve got a deficit to reduce, people. Get cracking!
The really fun part about Darrell Issa’s job is that he’s still just inspecting the stone wall of Obama “transparency.” We’re not even talking about what’s behind it yet. His adventures in government oversight are many pizzas shy of their exciting conclusion.