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Hearings of the
Subcommittee on Rules & Organization of the House

Cooperation, Comity, and Confrontation: Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch

Statement of Congressman Hon. Don Young (R-AK)
Chairman -- Committee on Resources

Mr. Chairman and Members of the subcommittee, this hearing is an excellent idea. I complement the Chairman. I will offer a few observations based on my Committee’s experience with the Department of Justice lawyers as we aggressively conduct our oversight. Mr. Chairman, this is an agency out of control.

At first blush, you may not think that the Committee on Resources would have too much interaction with Justice. The Department of the Interior is the primary agency we oversee.

But on about 50% of our full committee oversight we end up devoting substantial time and energy arguing with what must be every lawyer in the Department of Justice about getting information we need for our oversight projects. We win the arguments 99% of the time. But then we face the same Justice lawyers who raise the same issues that they delayed us with on the prior oversight request.

I have resorted to issuing numerous subpoenas to top Justice officials–Janet Reno, Eric Holder and others–so we can get documents and records that show waste, fraud, and abuse by Clinton Administration officials. In the vast majority of cases, documents that are withheld show poor judgement or embarrass the Administration. Very few valid rationales exist for withholding the information that we request, but they do so over and over.

The generic excuse we hear all of the time is that the Department has a “longstanding policy that prohibits them from turning over information to the Committee because it is or could be the subject of litigation against the United States.” I just don’t buy that broad excuse.

Because nearly every bad government decision could result in a lawsuit, we could only investigate good decisions, and good decisions are in short supply recently.

Here are a few examples of what I am telling the subcommittee.

Investigation of $1.6 Billion Timber Contract Cancellation

Here is an example. We are conducting oversight on whether the Clinton-Gore Administration breached a timber contract in Alaska. That decision threw 1,500 people in my state out of their family wage jobs. It exposed American taxpayers to damages of $1.6 BILLION. It is a typical Clinton political decision that costs jobs, costs taxpayers, and hurts the public forests.

We launched an oversight review on the matter by requesting that the Secretary of Agriculture provide us with certain records from the Forest Service and from his predecessor’s office. We are trying to determine the legitimacy of basis for the cancellation and why this Administration so callously exposed the taxpayers to a contract breach claim totaling about half of the agency’s annual budget.

The company that held the contract had sued the government for breach of contract, so matter was in litigation. That was Justice’s excuse to engage and delay our document request for three months. They pulled their whole team of lawyers off of the case, just to fight us on turning over anything to us.

They claimed “privileges” that do not apply to Congress. They failed to promptly respond to requests for information and records. I finally issued a subpoena to the Attorney General and then she came to visit me in my office.

We had a nice talk and she basically agreed to turn over everything we wanted, and I gave her assurances that we would not release certain material for a period of time. But within 24 hours, her staff reneged on giving us much of material. The Attorney General is in partial default of the subpoena. My staff is reviewing what Justice did give to us. I plan to bring this matter before the committee again to deal with the default. As it stands now, however, the chief law enforcement officer of the land is not complying with the law.

There are a whole host of other issues where the Department of Justice stands between the Committee’s search for TRUTH and our oversight OBLIGATIONS under the House Rules.

As you know we have an obligation under Rule 10(2)(b) to “review and study on a continuing basis” all laws within our jurisdiction, the organization and operation of agencies within our jurisdiction, and circumstances showing that new laws are needed. The Committee on Resources has very aggressively undertaken that responsibility, which may be why we have so frequently clashed with the Department of Justice.

Tucson Rod and Gun Club: Justice Cancels Meetings Between Committee Investigators and the Forest Service

Justice has tried to scuttle meetings between our committee investigators and the Forest Service. They directed the Service not to participate in a meeting that the committee’s chief investigator had arranged and flown across the country to attend. Justice gave us no consultation, no warning, no indication that they would meddle in our investigation of why a public land gun range had been wrongly closed--until we received a copy of their letter to the Forest Service canceling our meeting.

This is not just arrogance, it is brazen arrogance grounded in a “longstanding policy” not to allow the meeting because it involved ongoing litigation.

Warner Creek Environmental Protest

We have another investigation into the events that allowed environmentalist protesters–they are very close to this Administration–to illegally occupy a National Forest and destroy property there for 11 months. We have a task force looking into the matter now. There was a video tape of the actual raid to remove the protesters. We requested a copy of it for the Committee. This tape had been shown to numerous outside parties, aired for the media, and had been provided in criminal discovery to defendants. There was no legal authority cited for withholding the tape. I had to subpoena the tape and Justice ultimately complied with my request–weeks later.

Marshals Service

The U.S. Marshals Service is charged by statute with serving subpoenas. Generally they are helpful, except when it came to serving officials in the Department of Justice. Several times they refused to serve Justice officials. They told us their “longstanding practice” that they would not service Justice officials because the Marshals were part of the Department of Justice. I hand to write them a letter that spelled out their LEGAL OBLIGATION to serve our subpoenas. They ultimately changed their “longstanding practice.”

FBI Briefing in U.S. Territories

We took a delegation of House Members to the Territories in the Pacific last year. I arranged briefings for our delegation with all of the federal bureaus and agencies. Every agency that was invited--except for the FBI--showed up for the briefing. I walked down the hall to the FBI office to remind them that they were supposed to send a representative to the meeting to discuss their issues. I have never been faced with such personal arrogance by a federal agency offical. This gentleman FLATLY REFUSED to join our meeting. I did receive an apology letter from the Director, but again some unwritten “longstanding policy” was cited by the FBI as the reason for the failure of the agent to even attend our meeting.

Department Policies on Employees Receiving Payments From Outside Sources

A DOI and a Department of Energy employee received $350,000 each from an outfit called the Project on Government Oversight, a so-called watchdog group. This is a group external to the government that paid government employees “who had been trying to fix the [oil royalty] problem for years from within the bureaucracy.” I had never heard of such a thing before–an outside group with an agenda paid government employees a third of a million dollars each because they worked to further their agenda.

We made document requests and issued subpoenas for records to the Department of Interior and again were met with the Justice Department objections. Because the Interior IG was conducting a criminal investigation of the matter “longstanding policy” supposedly prevented them from turning over much information to Committee investigators. We are still fighting about this one.

Mr. Chairman, I could go on and on. Let me close by saying that I will be happy to work with you on rule changes to eliminate this problem with the Department of Justice. They are preventing us from doing the oversight work we are required to do by the Constitution and Rules of the House.

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