DHS officials to testify on 'Freedom of Information' process

The Republican chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will get his first crack this week at publicly grilling Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials about the agency’s FOIA process.

Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.) has doggedly sought to find out whether DHS allows political appointees to play a role in prioritizing or censoring information it is required to release under the agency’s Freedom of information Act (FOIA) guidelines.

When Issa took over control of the committee in January, his first major request for documents was for DHS to turn over thousands of copies of records and emails between agency officials. But Issa was not satisfied with DHS’s response, and last month he subpoenaed two of the department’s career employees, forcing them to give transcribed interviews before the committee.

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DHS officials have repeatedly stated their willingness to cooperate with his requests and point to the thousands of documents the department has turned over to the committee so far and the more than 20 staff members — 15 lawyers and at least six others — who are dedicated to fulfilling his requests.

But Issa’s office has said that a whistleblower from within the agency has come forward with information that contradicts what DHS officials and documents are telling him.

On Thursday Issa will get his chance to publicly address his concerns with Mary Ellen Callahan, the department’s chief privacy officer, and Ivan Fong, the DHS’s general counsel. Both Callahan and Fong are political appointees.

Issa’s inquiries about the role that political officers at DHS play in the FOIA process stems from a report last July by the Associated Press. The report found that top DHS officials had instructed career employees to turn over sensitive FOIA requests to President Obama’s political advisers before releasing them to the person who had requested them.

One month later, Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, requested that the inspectors general from nearly 30 agencies investigate what limitations, if any, the FOIA offices in the various departments were placing on the information requests.

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