Obama administration rebuffs subpoena

The Obama administration has snubbed a congressional subpoena in the investigation of a White House “drafting error” that suggested certain experts supported their decision to temporarily ban oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Interior Department says it will not turnover all of the requested documents and accused the House Resources Committee conducting oversight of the incident of violating the administration’s good faith effort to work with the panel.

Christopher Mansour, director of the Interior Department’s office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, called the scope of the investigation “unsettled” and said the request was “broad and ill-defined” without “articulating a specific oversight interest in such matters.”

Additionally, Mansour said the committee did not explain why the administration’s cooperation up to this point has been “insufficient to address its oversight interests or why further intrusion into the executive branch’s deliberative process is necessary.”

“Moreover, the department has an obligation to protect the integrity and confidentiality of the executive branch’s implementation of the law and its deliberative processes,” Mansour said in his letter to the committee Tuesday.
The committee issued the subpoena last week after nearly a yearlong investigation and polite requests for documents. Specifically, the panel asked for 13 documents the agency has blocked from being provided by the Inspector’s General office.
Additionally, the committee asked for all documents handled by five specifically named employees between April 26, 2010 and June 30, 2010. Instead, Mansour offered the committee 164 pages of unspecified documents.

The May 27, 2010 report from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was published at Obama’s request just weeks after the Deepwater Horizon disaster to examine safety measures in place for energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf, and included the recommendation for a six-month moratorium that was quickly imposed.  The report suggested it had been peer-reviewed by seven members of the National Academy of Engineering, and that they supported the temporary ban. However, those engineers later said they did not support the moratorium.

According to an inspector general investigation of the matter, Interior Department (DOI) officials said it was “never their intention to imply the moratorium was peer reviewed by the experts, but rather rushed editing of the executive summary by the DOI and the White House resulted in this implication.”

The Inspector’s General office said it “determined that the White House edit of the original DOI draft executive summary led to the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed by the experts.”

In Mansour’s letter to the Resources Committee, he called the mistake a “drafting error.”

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the committee, said the resulting moratorium caused the loss of several thousand jobs and economic pain throughout the Gulf region.

“It’s important to clearly understand exactly how this happened,” Hastings said.

Spencer Pederson, spokesman for the House committee, said the subpoena was clearly worded and that the investigation “very clearly includes the decision to impose the moratorium, the report, and the process that resulted in the misrepresentation of scientific views to further political plans to halt offshore drilling.”

“The department’s surreal claim that they don’t understand what is being investigated raises questions about whether they’re truly interested in living up to the president’s pledge of unprecedented transparency, or they’re maneuvering to withhold unknown amounts of information from public scrutiny and Congressional review,” Pederson said.