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Tag Archive: RealTime

Oversight in the Dark

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On January 29, 2007, Rep. Steve Cohen requested information on a private military company, Blackwater USA, from the Departments of State and Defense. Cohen had read some news articles about the firm, and wanted more information. Congress has broad authority to oversee the Executive Branch. What happens when a member, on his own initiative, tries to exercise that authority by inquiring about a controversial company? At RealTime, Anu provides the answer, which suggests that journalists may well have as good or better access to government information as members of Congress. No wonder members are often reacting to the latest headlines, rather than developing policies that would prevent such occurences (for example, perhaps it would be better if, in a combat theater, rules of engagement are uniform, not one set for soldiers and the other set written by the State Department).

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Beyond Earmark Reforms: Transparency in Congressional Communications

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About that Washington Post story that Ellen links to immediately below, which explains that members are getting around the earmark disclosure rules through a number of means, including writing letters to the administration asking for or insisting on funding for pet projects. (Here's an example of a letter writing campaign we noted a while back--senators telling the Department of Health and Human Services exactly who should get what funds; the same post notes that Sen. Ted Stevens was able to earmark funds by giving a floor speech.) What's needed is more transparency in the interaction between members of Congress and the executive branch. Post reporters John Solomon and Jeffrery Birnbaum get at this at the very end of their piece: "[Rep. Rahm Emanuel] (who'd used letters to request funding for projects in his discritct) declined to say whether he and other lawmakers ought to disclose their private contacts with federal agencies when they seek money for projects." Why not disclose every single "private contact" (which seem to involve public money, public employees, and public policy)? Anupama, my colleague on RealTime, just received, in response to a FOIA request, three months of correspondence logs between members of Congress and the Energy Department. The logs--which offer brief summaries of the subject of the letters--stretch for 70 pages, and include requests for energy to approve loans for private companies, to support research and to pay for pet projects -- asking for $5.5 million here, $17 million there, and certainly far more elsewhere. Shouldn't all these requests from members of Congress -- whether they're for earmarks or for grants or contracts -- routinely be a matter of public record?

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