Administration takes transparency hits with GOP on cusp of oversight power

The Obama administration’s transparency and accounting methods have been publicly lambasted on a range of issues over the last couple of months.

The criticism comes as Republicans are expected to win control of at least one chamber of Congress on Tuesday and, with it, gain new oversight and subpoena powers.

In a report issued last month, Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), suggested the administration was playing accounting games to make it look like the government was regaining more money from TARP than it actually was.

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Barofsky accused the Treasury Department of concealing $40 billion in likely taxpayer losses on the AIG bailout. Barofsky, who was confirmed by the Senate in 2008 after the Wall Street bailout passed, granted several interviews on his report.

He told The New York Times, “In our view, this is a significant failure in their transparency.”

Treasury officials strongly disputed Barofsky’s findings, pointing to a difference in methodology.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Finance Committee ranking member who has conducted aggressive oversight of Democratic and Republican administrations, swiftly rebuked the Treasury Department. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who would take over the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee if Republicans win the House, also criticized the administration.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) quietly approved 30 waivers to companies that were considering dropping their healthcare coverage. The waivers enabled them to dodge a key mandate in the healthcare law President Obama signed earlier this year.

The decision, which was buried on HHS’s website and not announced in a press release, was excoriated by both liberals and conservatives.

In September, White House Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle stated on the White House blog that the new healthcare law “will make healthcare more affordable for Americans.”

But Richard Foster, Medicare’s nonpartisan chief actuary, disputed that assertion. At the time, he said, “The amounts quoted in the White House blog are not meaningful…”

The Obama administration is also taking criticism on a high-profile voter intimidation case.

A draft report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that was leaked recently alleged the Department of Justice (DoJ) tried to hide the involvement of high-level political officials in its decision to dismiss a high-profile voter intimidation lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party.

On Election Day 2008, two members of the New Black Panther Party were standing outside a polling station in Philadelphia, with one clenching a nightstick, according to video of the incident, which has been posted on the Internet.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights stated DoJ’s actions failed to protect white voters and is “at war with its core mission of guaranteeing equal protection” for all Americans. 

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has pursued the DoJ’s handling of the New Black Panther Party case and pointed out that he hasn’t received responses from DoJ to his multiple requests for documents and information on the matter. 


If the GOP wins control of the House Tuesday, Wolf is expected to become the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, which has jurisdiction over the DoJ’s budget.

The White House did not comment for this article. However, administration officials have repeatedly touted the president’s transparency and open-government record, most notably on the release of White House visitor logs. Watchdog groups have praised Obama for publicly releasing much more information than the previous administration.

Republicans on Capitol Hill contend the administration’s actions on transparency do not match its rhetoric.

Darrell West, a political scientist and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institute, said Republicans will conduct rigorous oversight of the Obama administration should they gain subpoena powers.

“It’s going to get a lot testier,” said West of the possible Republican majority. “It’s going to be tough because you may end up with government by subpoena. It slows everything down. It makes it difficult for people to do their day jobs and it means that everyone is looking over their shoulder all of the time.”


Republicans, however, counter that there needs to be a check and balance on the Obama White House.

Grassley has been focused on strengthening the power of Congress’s investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO has had its requests repeatedly rebuffed by officials from the DoJ, the State Department, and the Department of Defense, among others, according to letters from the GAO to congressional leaders obtained by The Hill. 



Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been especially concerned that the GAO has been unable to obtain personnel vacancy rates within the FBI’s counterterrorism division.

The vacancies have prevented the agency from developing a staff of experienced counterterrorism experts, according to a letter signed by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Grassley and Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.). Leahy heads the Senate Judiciary Committee while Conyers chairs the House Judiciary panel. 



The DoJ cites a 1988 legal opinion issued by DoJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, which it says grants Congress — not the GAO — access to intelligence-related information, including personnel and human capital data.



Smith, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, has been a critic of the DoJ over the last couple of years. Smith’s office has emphasized the need for congressional oversight in three major areas: the closure of the Guantánamo Bay military prison; allegations of criminal misconduct by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the DOJ’s actions in the New Black Panther Party case.

A spokesman for the White House did not return a request for comment. Issa’s office also did not return a request for comment.

This article was updated and clarified on Nov. 5.