Lawmakers prod officials on openness

The top two lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee are demanding information about obstacles they say are limiting government transparency. 

Scores of agencies across the federal government have failed to update their regulations involving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), despite a 2009 directive from Attorney General Eric Holder ordering them to adopt a “presumption of openness,” Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said. 

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Additionally, the lawmakers pointed to a backlog of requests for information at some agencies, an excessive use of exemptions allowing officials to withhold information and exorbitant — and potentially illegal — fee assessments. 


In a six-page letter sent this week to the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy, Issa and Cummings sought information on 23 points related to the perceived problems with the flow of information to the American public.

Chief among them is the committee’s finding that at least 56 agencies have neglected to update their regulations to reflect a 2007 law that made changes to FOIA.

“DOJs own regulations have not been updated since 2003,” the lawmakers note.

The 2007 law authorized fee waivers for certain requests, and agencies that have not updated their policies may be violating that statute, they said. 

Issa and Cummings also pointed to delays in agency responses to requests for information under FOIA. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, receives about 27 percent of all FOIA requests, but the agency is responsible for more than half of some 83,000 backlogged requests government-wide.

The lawmakers are requesting a response and a briefing on the issues by Feb. 22.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES. House Republicans unveiled a report Wednesday highlighting the estimated number of hours required to comply with President Obama’s signature healthcare law — 127 million annually. 

GOP lawmakers are continuing to hammer Obama over the Affordable Care Act, which became entrenched with last year’s Supreme Court decision on healthcare as well as the results of the elections. 

The “ObamaCare Burden Tracker” will be updated as the administration releases new rules, members said. The project is a collaboration of the House Ways and Means, Education and Workforce and Energy and Commerce committees. 

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) called the figure “just the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the challenges posed by healthcare reform. 

“This is just another example of the Obama administration placing the burden of their policies on the backs of those who are already doing more with less time and resources — families and small businesses,” Camp said in a statement. 

FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION. The Food and Drug Administration has received more than 400 comments since mid-December about the role of opiate prescription painkillers in medical treatment. Though only 16 of the comments are available to the public, most are supportive of more stringent labeling measures for addictive medications. Comments will be accepted until April 8.

ELSEWHERE. 

• The Financial Stability Oversight Council, made up of nine federal agencies and a presidential appointee, is proposing to reform money market mutual funds, a task the Securities and Exchange Commission has recently dubbed a top priority. The regulations would be another chapter in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law’s implementation and would  ”address the structural vulnerabilities” of the investment vehicles. Comments are due by Feb. 15.

• The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments on a proposal to allow an “incidental take” of polar bears and Pacific walruses around the Alaska coastline during activities related to drilling and oil exploration in the Bearing and Chukchi seas. The “activities will impact small numbers of animals” and “will have a negligible impact on these species,” according to the agency.  Comments are due by Feb. 8.