House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has plans to launch investigations into everything from Wikileaks to the mortgage crisis, but a high-profile hearing he held yesterday showed some…interesting priorities. Issa was concerned that the Department of Homeland Security inappropriately required Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to be vetted by Obama Administration political appointees, in a process that has since been revised. The only problem? He couldn’t find any evidence of actual wrongdoing:
Narrowing most of Chief FOIA and Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan's answers to a, "yes or no," Issa asserted she forwarded FOIA requests to DHS political appointees, who then evaluated the information based on how embarrassing or politically sensitive it was.
Despite Issa's claims, however, both the written committee findings and a report issued by the DHS inspector general found the privacy office did not engage in unfair or illegal politicization of FOIA requests. Throughout the hearing, Callahan insisted no FOIA requesters were disadvantaged because of their political party or area of interest.
"To my knowledge, no one other than a FOIA professional made a substantive change to a FOIA release," Callahan said. "The department was not engaging in spin. They just wanted to know what was in the documents."
Maybe it was the lack of evidence that caused Issa to withhold thousands of pages of documents from the Democratic staff of his committee until early this week:
Republican Committee staff obtained at least 7,200 pages of documents from an independent source. They shared approximately 1,900 pages with the Democratic staff in February, but they waited to share an additional 5,300 pages until Monday of this week.
So what did Issa’s investigation into DHS’s FOIA practices find? Politico’s Ben Smith points to one object of controversy illuminated in a report by the committee’s Democratic staff, an extended discussion about whether or not it was appropriate for the department to redact curse words and catty comments made by a government employee about Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s wardrobe. The report concluded:
This evidence does not indicate that the swear words or comments about the Secretary's attire were political in nature, or that information in these documents was withheld for partisan political purposes.
So Issa’s brave investigation revealed that the news media was denied access to some rude and irrelevant comments government employees made about each other, for reasons that were not political.
Glad we took the time to get that settled. Now about that mortgage crisis?