Rep. Hastings: Interior wastes money on congressional requests

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc HastingsRichard (Doc) Norman HastingsCongress just resolved a 20-year debate over Neolithic remains Boehner hires new press secretary GOP plots new course on Endangered Species Act reform MORE (R-Wash.) accused the Interior Department Tuesday of wasting time and taxpayer money in how it responds to his requests for information.

Hastings sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellNational parks pay the price for Trump's Independence Day spectacle Overnight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone MORE to respond to her complaint in September that complying with the panel’s requests have cost at least $2 million in less than two years.

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“The department should not consider its obligation to keep Congress and the American public informed about how it is implementing the laws authored by Congress or spending taxpayer money to be either a burden or a distraction,” Hastings wrote.

He said responding to requests from lawmakers and the public “is an important part of the department’s mission and should not be marginalized.”

Hastings called specific attention to the time Interior takes to redact documents before sending them to his staff as a waste of money when the documents had already been review for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Last year’s budget for Interior gave its congressional affairs and regulatory offices a combined $6.1 million, with another $12 million going to the office dedicated to FOIA.

“Compared to the thousands of regulatory, policy and permitting decisions made by the department and the thousands of FOIA requests made for information that the department responds to each year, the committee’s oversight has been extremely limited and focused,” Hastings said.

Based on Interior’s figures, Hastings estimated that it spends $33 and 34 minutes of staff time for each page it has provided his committee.

Jewell and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe angered Republicans in September when Jewell sent the letter on requests a day before Ashe testified about the committee’s investigations into enforcement of endangered species rules on energy companies.

Ashe said he and his staff made “exceptional efforts to be responsive,” and expressed his disappointment that Hastings did not recognize his efforts.