Reforming the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2013 at 11:02 pm


The true administration of justice inherently requires findings of fact.

Indeed, it was Edmund Burke who implored the electors of Bristol in a speech dated November 3, 1777: “But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion…”  When the determination precedes the discussion, then there is no reason; the conclusion has already been made, thereby rendering any discussion moot.  Why, then, does this happen?  Why do social norms dictate that there be a process, even when that process may seem unnecessary to arrive at the conclusion?  The reason is because that very process is itself a part of the conclusion; it is a means to the end, but it is also an end unto itself.

In today’s news, there is much talk of great dissent between U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and U.S. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA).  The latest issue is the congressional inquiry into allegations that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeted conservative nonprofits groups and that these attacks were politically motivated.  As Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Issa has led the push for this Committee to investigate these allegations, despite claims by Cummings that the matter was already addressed following a yearlong investigation by the Treasury Inspector General of Tax Administration (TIGTA).  Cummings is the Committee’s Ranking Democrat, having defeated Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) when Ranking Democrats were selected to serve on House Committees late in 2010.

Subsequently, Cummings has been known for speaking out on issues rather than being a lapdog to Issa.  Upon assuming his new role in January of 2011, Cummings issued a letter to Issa in which he highlighted statements made by Issa which he feared that, “I am concerned, however, that some actions over the past year—including within the past few days—fall short of this standard, raise questions about the use of Committee resources, and risk bringing our Committee into disrepute.”  In reply, a Committee spokesman declared that “It is evident that obstruction is the only agenda Mr. Cummings is interested in pursuing.”

Shortly thereafter, it was during hearings into the foreclosure crisis in late January 2011 that Issa refused to allow any opening statements from Committee members, presumably targeted at Cummings in particular, who had planned to accuse Issa with blocking the Committee from questioning an important witness from JPMorgan Chase.

On April 1, 2011, Cummings criticized Issa for failing to address his concerns which feared that the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s investigation into the “Fast and Furious” debacle would potentially compromise the Department of Justice’s “potential prosecution and ultimate conviction of international criminals…”  Of particular concern was the fact that Issa had apparently issued unilateral subpoenas without consulting other members of the Committee.

More recently, Cummings has protested against Issa’s unilateral subpoena power and moreover, objected to witnesses in the Benghazi hearings such as Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who have been permitted to be interviewed in a recorded session not on public record before testifying on the record; Cummings referred to Issa’s decision as “extreme Republican overreach.”

Last week, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform continued its inquiry into allegations that the IRS used its authority to target Tea Party groups, following the issuance of a report last month from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).  Now, Issa apparently is seeking to link this targeting out of the IRS office in Cincinnati, Ohio to officials in Washington, DC, noting that “This is a problem that was coordinated, in all likelihood, right out of Washington headquarters. We have subpoenaed documents that would support that.”  In reply, Cummings has spoken out, announcing that “Chairman Issa’s reckless statements today are inconsistent with the findings of the Inspector General, who spent more than a year conducting his investigation.”

Cummings also urged that the focus should turn towards overseeing implementation of the TIGTA report recommendations following its investigation, rather than initiating a new congressional investigation.  The TIGTA report does identify two core offices involved in reviewing nonprofit status applications: the Exempt Organizations (EO) IRS function, headquartered in Washington, DC, and the Cincinnati IRS Determination Unit, which is within the EO, and thus accountable to officials in Washington, DC.  However, the report does not indicate any knowledge of White House officials and further discloses that the EO Director, Lois Lerner, imposed subsequent remedial measures upon the Determinations Unit when the political targeting was brought to her attention.

While Chairman Issa insists that this Committee inquiry is still underway, Cummings stated that “I think this interview and these statements go a long way…showing that the White House was not involved in this…Based upon everything I’ve seen the case is solved…”  Issa apparently has released only excerpts of interview transcripts conducted by the Committee, and Cummings has even said that he will unilaterally release those full interview transcripts to the public, even if Issa will not.  Issa replied in a statement of his own, that “His extreme and reckless assertions are a signal that his true motivation is stopping needed congressional oversight and he has no genuine interest in working, on a bipartisan basis, to expose the full truth.”  Then, Cummings went further in judging Issa’s Chairmanship by writing: “Your actions over the past three years do not reflect a responsible, bipartisan approach to investigations, and the Committee’s credibility has been damaged as a result.  Your approach in all of these cases has been to accuse first, and then go in search of evidence to back up your claims.”

The words of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke opened this posting, and let these be invoked again: What sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion?  An investigation is generally a search for truth, and thus truer conclusions may best be made.  When a conclusion precedes that search, then it is inherently flawed.  This is not the first time the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has fallen under scrutiny and been the subject of dissent and discontent.  While this Committee has sought to reform itself many times, history proves that the same parts are played time and again, only by many new actors and a few who are old.

The moral is that true reform shall never have a home where eyes are closed.


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