Among the last vestiges of bipartisanship in Washington is a long tradition that formal inquiries posed to federal agencies by members of Congress, regardless of party, get a formal answer.
Sometimes, when the member seeks information that may make an agency look bad, replies come slowly; occasionally, an inquisitive lawmaker must prod a foot-dragging cabinet secretary in public to get the facts he or she seeks. The eventual reply may be incomplete or misleading, but the member at least gets the courtesy of an answer.
Today’s Washington Post reports that the Trump administration appears to be discarding the tradition, stonewalling even routine requests for information by congressional Democrats.
Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the senior Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, told the Post that the General Services Administration has informed his office that it will only provide documents requested by Republican committee chairmen. Carper had asked the agency whether the use of public land by the new Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington would financially benefit the president. He said GSA officials declined to answer.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-AZ, ran into similar trouble at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Post said a Grijalva staffer assigned to retrieve some statistics gathered under the Endangered Species Act was turned away by the Fish and Wildlife congressional liaison office. Grijalva said he was told that Fish and Wildlife workers couldn’t speak to Democratic staff unless they were called as a witness at a hearing. “I’ve been on this committee going on my 15th year,” Grijalva told the Post. “This kind of response is unprecedented.”
Journalists and other inquiring citizens are accustomed to encountering obstacles when they seek government information, even when their access is protected by Freedom of Information laws. But an information blackout on requests from minority senators and House members – if the administration is indeed imposing it – takes obstruction to a whole new level.
“Federal agencies are funded by taxpayers to serve every American and every American’s representative in Congress," Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn said in a statement released at midday. "Politicizing federal agencies to serve only one political party is reprehensible and unacceptable in a free nation. This outrageous conduct is not the way the government officials should be conducting the business of the people – the people who sign their paychecks. The White House needs to make very clear to the agencies that they are to cooperate with members of both parties regardless of which party is in power. This nation remains a democracy whether some members of the current administration like it or not.”
Post columnist James Hohmann argues that “Trump appears to have made a cynical calculation that he will not pay a high political price for being the most secretive president since Richard Nixon.
“All the leaks about infighting among senior staff and the president’s proclivity for tweeting have created a false sense that the public knows what is happening inside his White House,” Hohmann writes. “In fact, the administration has gone to great lengths to conceal pertinent information from the American people.”
Office: Common Cause National