Oversight

A weekly rundown of the latest efforts of lawmakers to scrutinize the actions of the executive branch.

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: (7/20) — Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) sent letters to Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt and USAID Acting Director Henrietta H. Fore urging both agencies to respect the constitutional rights and public health responsibilities of organizations receiving U.S. global AIDS funding.

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In the coming weeks, the White House is expected to issue new guidance regarding an anti-prostitution pledge requirement for recipients of such aid, which the representatives said could “unduly burden the cooperating agencies participating in our programs and introduce wasteful duplication of costs.”

“Groups working to address the causes and consequences of prostitution are concerned that the pledge requirement increases stigmatization and hinders outreach,” they wrote, “and there is international public health consensus that effective outreach to marginalized populations is crucial to HIV prevention.”

House Committee on Natural Resources: (7/20) — Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) expressed optimism for greater cooperation with the Department of the Interior as the committee prepares for a July 31 hearing to examine alleged political interference in the department’s scientific decision-making.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall said Friday the department planned to reopen investigations of cases in which Interior’s inspector general found Julie MacDonald, a former deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, had asserted her own political interests to overrule scientific decisions on endangered species recovery. The announcement came after Rahall sent multiple letters to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett pressing the agency to review possible political tampering within its ranks.

“I am heartened to hear that the Department of the Interior is stepping up to the plate to begin addressing the ‘politics trumps science’ ploy endemic throughout this administration,” Rahall said. “While this is positive movement, it is just a start. What we have learned to date raises concerns about political tinkering with science that has affected many endangered species-related decisions — and goodness knows what else — that deserve further scrutiny.”

House Committee on Science and Technology: (7/19) — Two Science and Technology subcommittees, the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment and the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, met jointly last week to seek answers on a brewing controversy at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Tropical Prediction Center (TPC/NHC).

Earlier this month, NOAA administrator and retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher placed Hurricane Center Director William Proenza on leave, a move that raised congressional eyebrows by coming in the middle of hurricane season.

“If you look past the apparently spontaneous rebellion by employees in the lab, and look past what has unfolded at the managerial level of NOAA, the question arises whether Mr. Proenza was pushed out because he was a whistle-blower, a truth-teller,” Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-N.C.) said.

“This is hurricane season,” Energy and Environment subcommittee Chairman Nick Lampson (D-Texas) added. “The only storms the center should be dealing with are those that form out in the ocean.”

The committee heard testimony from Proenza and Lautenbacher, as well as from regional emergency managers who testified positively about Proenza’s leadership in his previous position. The committee is reaching out to additional NHC Center staff members for their perspective on events; the investigation is ongoing.