Oversight panel starts probe into FOIA screening at Homeland Security

posted at 11:05 am on January 17, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Republicans have started to make good on their promises to conduct stringent oversight of the Obama administration right from the start.  Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has requested information from the Department of Homeland Security over a reported practice of investigating the politics of those seeking government records through Freedom of Information Act requests:

A House committee has asked the Homeland Security Department to provide documents about an agency policy that required political appointees to review many Freedom of InformationAct requests, according to a letter obtained Sunday by The Associated Press.

The letter to Homeland Security was sent late Friday by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It represents an early move by House Republicans who have vowed to launch numerous probes of President Barack Obama’s administration, ranging from its implementation of the new health care law to rules curbing air pollution to spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Associated Press reported in July that for at least a year, Homeland Security had sidetracked hundreds of requests for federal records to top political advisers to the department’s secretary, Janet Napolitano. The political appointees wanted information about those requesting the materials, and in some cases the release of documents considered politically sensitive was delayed, according to numerous e-mails that were obtained by the AP.

The Freedom of Information Act is supposed to ensure the quick public release of requested government documents without political consideration. Obama has said his administration would emphasize openness in providing requested federal records.

I wrote about it at the time, although the issue got lost a bit in the midterms.  This could do serious damage to the White House pretense of openness, especially since FOIA itself was one of the premiere tools to ensure open government.  It allows citizens and the media to force government to either release information or come up with a good reason not to do so, eventually in front of a judge if pressed hard enough.  FOIA requests help shine sunlight on government operations and impose accountability, even when Congress is not inclined to do so.

That’s why DHS treated FOIA requests with such scrutiny.  The Obama administration had a pliant, even supine Congress in the first two years, and that gave them plenty of room to act without any check on their authority.  The people most interested in FOIA requests were probably those who mistrusted the Obama administration’s exercise of power, but apparently DHS wanted to be sure that was the case.  Vetting requests based on political considerations would not just violate the letter of the law, but it would also be a big indicator of attempting to hide from sunlight.  A confirmation of this process would put Obama, or at least Janet Napolitano, on par with Richard Nixon in that sense.

DHS denies that they vetted requests for political leanings, but only for “grammatical and other errors” and to alert high-ranking DHS officials of potential controversies.  Issa’s probe will hopefully settle the issue.  It’s long past time that Congress exercise its oversight responsibilities, and probing an alleged attack on openness in government is an excellent place to start.


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The vise begins to tighten…

right2bright on January 17, 2011 at 11:08 AM

This is a good sign.

Weight of Glory on January 17, 2011 at 11:11 AM

This is all just going to incite violence.

Good Lt on January 17, 2011 at 11:11 AM

…by the short and curlies….

ted c on January 17, 2011 at 11:11 AM

just talk to ‘em civil as you lock ‘em up, Mr. Issa…they like that.

ted c on January 17, 2011 at 11:12 AM

FOIA requests against the PBHO administration are racist, plain and simple.

Bishop on January 17, 2011 at 11:13 AM

Seiously, Ed. Enough with that F’ing popup ad. Anyone who wants to subscribe probably already has.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to close that stupid thing with a touchscreen phone.

Enough is enough.

Claudin on January 17, 2011 at 11:19 AM

If the “investigation” takes more than a week, it’ll be just another example of old-fashioned Congressional posturing. Compared with some of the truly incredible excesses of the Osama Obama regime — when do they start looking into DoJ’s race-based “law enforcement?” When do they look for the truth of Obama’s blatant campaign-finance activities? Will they have the nerve to unravel the ties between the Traitor-in-Chief and Acorn and the SEIU? — this is small potatoes, indeed.

I’d like to see Issa disprove my take on him, which is that he’s all talk and no action. Looks to me as if when the going gets tough, Issa vanishes like morning fog.

MrScribbler on January 17, 2011 at 11:20 AM

To quote one of my favorite theme songs from my youth:

“Go, go, Gophers! Watch ‘em go, go, GO!”

tree hugging sister on January 17, 2011 at 11:23 AM

And the complaint will be that those unscrupulous Republican politicians are being political, unlike the unsullied lads and lasses on the other side of the aisle.

Amendment X on January 17, 2011 at 11:23 AM

Grammatical errors?

mikeyboss on January 17, 2011 at 11:24 AM

The meltdown continues. If you think liberals were frothing at the mouth last week just wait for the outcry as they’re dragged kicking and screaming before Republican controlled congressional committees to answer for their crimes.

Rod on January 17, 2011 at 11:26 AM

Grammatical errors?

mikeyboss on January 17, 2011 at 11:24 AM

Grammer police!

ladyingray on January 17, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Homeland Security ? Would like a probe of Justice or HUD first please !

William Amos on January 17, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Yeah, they were just checking spelling errors, and commas and stuff.
Anybody got any problem with the govt. being too big now?

docjohn52 on January 17, 2011 at 11:28 AM

Grammatical errors?

mikeyboss on January 17, 2011 at 11:24 AM

Mind Control
/Lockner

William Amos on January 17, 2011 at 11:28 AM

DHS denies that they vetted requests for political leanings, but only for “grammatical and other errors” and to alert high-ranking DHS officials of potential controversies

Omigosh, Loughner was correct. The government is ruling us through grammar.

onlineanalyst on January 17, 2011 at 11:29 AM

This could do serious damage to the White House pretense of openness, especially since FOIA itself was one of the premiere tools to ensure open government.

What pretense would that be….? That was about as believable as Nancy Pelosi was going to drain the swamp.

NeoKong on January 17, 2011 at 11:30 AM

“Obama has said his administration would emphasize openness in providing requested federal records.”
Well, it all depends on what it means to request federal records.
I’m sure there’s a process matrix in their FOIA standard operating procedure that defines each of the steps of a FOIA submission, and only after it’s gone through sufficient vetting, including determining the voting record, handgun license status, and most recent IRS audit of the citizen making the request, does it actually become a “federal records request”. But it the person’s a moderate, concerned liberal, then the request gets moved along immediately.

it all depends on what the definition of IS is.

smfic on January 17, 2011 at 11:35 AM

Omigosh, Loughner was correct. The government is ruling us through grammar.
onlineanalyst on January 17, 2011 at 11:29 AM

Go ahead and laugh, but I find it a little bit scary that a mass-murdering sociopath seems to have a better insight into this administration’s thought processes than any sane person does.

logis on January 17, 2011 at 11:38 AM

http://www.digtriad.com/news/local_state/article.aspx?storyid=156575

John Edwards facing Federal Grand Jury investigation

Investigators are looking chiefly at whether funds paid to Hunter and Young — from outside political groups and Edwards’ political donors — should have been considered campaign donations since they arguably aided his presidential bid, according to several people involved in the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing probe

William Amos on January 17, 2011 at 11:43 AM

Issa had better stand by. You think Palin was unfairly vilified recently – just wait until the left sinks their teeth into this. Let’s see; “fishing expedition”, “we have more urgent things to do”, “witch hunt”, “kangaroo court”, immediately come to mind.

GarandFan on January 17, 2011 at 11:43 AM

DHS denies that they vetted requests for political leanings, but only for “grammatical and other errors”

WTF? This is the dumbest thing I’ve seen today, including Giuliani’s stupid equivocations. Grammatical errors?? As if they would recognize one…

CantCureStupid on January 17, 2011 at 11:46 AM

I’ve read FOIA and I’m pretty sure there isn’t a clause allowing the government to withhold documents for “grammar errors.”

Wonder if they’re using the “grammatical or other errors” as a pretext for identifying conservative views. A particular turn of phrase can frequently identify the ideological leanings of the author.

Firefly_76 on January 17, 2011 at 11:53 AM

I am a conservative….wrong.
I was a conservative…right
I am a liberal…correct
I was a liberal…wrong
I was-were-going to-am-will be-at an Obama rally…correct English.
I am at a Tea-Party rally…wrong English.
I won…correct grammar
You won…incorrect grammar
See, it is important for them to look at grammar.

right2bright on January 17, 2011 at 11:58 AM

When does the investigation into the removal of credit card security features on Obama’s campaign website begin?

Jay Mac on January 17, 2011 at 12:10 PM

I personally would applaude getting rid of this agency entirely.

It’s a brain-drain, in my opinion. Even under Bush, the reports were similar to this one. They were “infiltrating” cookie group made up of old hippies in big socks and sandals.

And they have yet to produce a result worth the money.

AnninCA on January 17, 2011 at 12:10 PM

That’s why DHS treated FOIA requests with such scrutiny. The Obama administration had a pliant, even supine Congress in the first two years, and that gave them plenty of room to act without any check on their authority.

Did the Obama administration actually think this type of environment would remain forever unchanged?

That they wouldn’t have to be held accountable some day?

Chip on January 17, 2011 at 12:11 PM

Perhaps Issa can also investigate how a Congressman with close links (including fund-raising) to terrorists who have financial and operational (training, sharing bomb-making expertise) links with Middle Eastern terrorists (PLO, Hezbollah, Hamas) and FARC can be on the Committee for Homeland Security: Rep King and his activities in support of the IRA.

Oh wait, he’s a Republican, never mind then…

Jay Mac on January 17, 2011 at 12:18 PM

When does the investigation into the removal of credit card security features on Obama’s campaign website begin?

Jay Mac on January 17, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Too late I’m afraid, I’m sure the records have all been lost. Even if they were available and the FEC agreed to look into it, they might come to a conclusion by 2020.

It’s not too late however for Congress to amend campaign finance laws to literally block foreigners from contributing to a presidential campaign.

slickwillie2001 on January 17, 2011 at 12:29 PM

Let’s eliminate this agency.

It’s worthless.

It’s been a complete failure.

Let’s just admit it and move on, and save billions in the process.

AnninCA on January 17, 2011 at 12:31 PM

DHS denies that they vetted requests for political leanings, but only for “grammatical and other errors” and to alert high-ranking DHS officials of potential controversies.

A 50/50 mix of truth and fiction. High level political appointees reviewing for grammatical errors? Please. Scanning for potential controveries? Of course. You can bet that is where the editing is being done.

Mason on January 17, 2011 at 12:44 PM

I will believe the change when the Federal Reserve gets audited, the SEC gets investigated, when Agriculture is investigated for Pigford and the DoJ brought on the carpet for their handling of NBPP.

The amount of manipulation by federal organs that goes on is criminal, and we need far fewer of those diseased organs and the few that are necessary slimmed down so they can be held accountable.

ajacksonian on January 17, 2011 at 12:57 PM

Go ahead and laugh, but I find it a little bit scary that a mass-murdering sociopath seems to have a better insight into this administration’s thought processes than any sane person does.

logis on January 17, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Uhh, I think George Orwell beat him by 60 years or so.
And there are many sane people here who know exactly what this administration(and democrats) is doing.

orbitalair on January 17, 2011 at 12:58 PM

Are we out of major league sports to look into?

Cindy Munford on January 17, 2011 at 1:18 PM

Here’s something else to investigate: Obama Regime Gives Another $7 Million to Left-Wing Groups to Continue Its “Environmental Justice” Campaign…

How is this constitutional? Congress appropriates money to fund the EPA and the EPA passes some of that money on to radical left-wing causes? The EPA needs its budget cut!

There oughta be a law!

slickwillie2001 on January 17, 2011 at 1:34 PM

Jay Mac on January 17, 2011 at 12:18 PM

What temperature does burning concrete melt steel again?

Roy Rogers on January 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Seems like a good strategic move on top of everything… Knowing he will be accused of a political witch-hunt, Issa is first pressing an issue that hits the Administration at its core in terms of credibility…

phreshone on January 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Seems like a good strategic move on top of everything… Knowing he will be accused of a political witch-hunt, Issa is first pressing an issue that hits the Administration at its core in terms of credibility…

phreshone on January 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Agreed.

Each investigation into this administration will be met with:

A. Pick the target

B. Freeze it

C. Personalize it

D. Polarize it

We read your book lefties!

Roy Rogers on January 17, 2011 at 1:55 PM

WTF? This is the dumbest thing I’ve seen today, including Giuliani’s stupid equivocations. Grammatical errors?? As if they would recognize one…
CantCureStupid on January 17, 2011 at 11:46 AM

Bear in mind, these are the SAME PEOPLE who bragged about not having even a vague familiarity with any of the statutes they themselves wrote; and this is the SAME administration whose chief prosecutor said under oath that he had never even looked at the half-page Arizona statute he filed papers to have declared “unConstitutional.”

But when it comes to Freedom of Information requests, all of a sudden these SAME individuals are now claiming they have spent months painstakingly dissecting each sentence in search of split infinitives and improperly conjugated verb tenses.

Really?

THAT is the story they’re going with now?

Seriously?

logis on January 17, 2011 at 2:04 PM

I hope that for once the Republicans have an actual plan to combine:

1. a meaningful series of hearings into substantive issues that matter to the citizens of this country
2. an effective communications strategy that explains to even those who are apolitical WHY the issues matter
3. an on-going cumulative tally of the misdeeds and policies that are running this government (and our nation) off the cliff

This should be a process that leads voters to an inevitable conclusion that they need to vote the Obama administration and its enablers out of office.

If the Republicans can’t do this effectively then vote them out, too.

in_awe on January 17, 2011 at 2:09 PM

Seems like a good strategic move on top of everything… Knowing he will be accused of a political witch-hunt, Issa is first pressing an issue that hits the Administration at its core in terms of credibility…

phreshone on January 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

I agree.

INC on January 17, 2011 at 2:47 PM

DHS denies that they vetted requests for political leanings, but only for “grammatical and other errors” and to alert high-ranking DHS officials of potential controversies.

Grammar? That’s absurd.

Political “controversies” I can well believe.

INC on January 17, 2011 at 2:54 PM

DHS denies that they vetted requests for political leanings, but only for “grammatical and other errors” and to alert high-ranking DHS officials of potential controversies.

With lame excuses like that, you know they’re guilty of something. Geeeeeeze! C’mon! Grammatical errors? That is as absurd as it gets, isn’t it?

capejasmine on January 17, 2011 at 3:56 PM

Grammar? That’s absurd.

Political “controversies” I can well believe.

INC on January 17, 2011 at 2:54 PM

TSA had better keep its grubby hands off my Grammar!!!

landlines on January 17, 2011 at 4:15 PM

What temperature does burning concrete melt steel again?

Roy Rogers on January 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Rep King’s fund-raising and links to the IRA are well documented- go Google it.

Then ask yourself how a man with his history and links to terrorists is now sitting on the Homeland Security Committee. Personally I find it repugnant that he has been elevated to such a position given the horrific crimes of the IRA.

King was still a vocal supporter of the IRA when they tried to assassinate Margaret Thatcher and members of her cabinet in the Brighton bombing. This was at a time when Reagan was in office and the special relationship between the UK and the US was said to have been at its highest.

The IRA’s links with foreign terrorists are also well-documented- explosives from Libya, arms from various other groups, sharing their expertise in bomb-making with them.

Do you dispute any of this?

I’m no Truther and I resent the pathetic implication. I despise terrorism and those who commit it and enable it to occur.

If King was a Democrat would you still support his position? After all, Obama took well-deserved heat for his friendship with Bill Ayers, a former terrorist implicated in a handful of deaths. The IRA have some 2,000 victims- soldiers, police officers and innocent men, women and children. King was an active fund-raiser for this terrorist campaign, against the people and government of one of America’s closest allies, at the same time that they were committing these atrocities.

And he now sits on the Homeland Security Committee?

Jay Mac on January 17, 2011 at 4:56 PM

Perhaps they can begin to speak to each other in the way they have asked everyone to do.

Well it looks like every liberal rag as nailed King, the Democratic Underground has an article pinning him to the IRA. And definitely radical Islamic groups hate him. Salon hates him, a lot of liberal bloggers hate him…yeah, looks like you are on to something. Every liberal blogger, every liberal website, every pro-Arab website has posted the same two or three stories…

right2bright on January 17, 2011 at 5:24 PM

Very timely. Working in the aviation industry, and having read the hype about how the TSA, a part of DHS, is required by its Mission Statement to partner with the airports it oversees. The statement is only as valid as the person they bestow the title of Federal Security Director. In some cases Director is spelled Dictator, I guess it’s a printing error to save money.

Confirmation that the term is just a means of appeasing the public’s negative view of the agency, is found in the number of airports that have negative dealings with their partner.

MSGTAS on January 18, 2011 at 9:20 AM