Issa: DHS FOIA Process ‘Reeks Of A Nixonian Enemies List’

March 31, 2011 6:01 am

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has trumped up scandals involving the Obama administration that have turned out to be duds. But in his probe of political interference in the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) at the Department of Homeland Security, it looks like Issa has the goods.But Democrats and the DHS said that Issa’s rhetoric doesn’t match up with the facts. And they issued their own report that finds documents and interviews “does not support Chairman Issa’s allegations that DHS withheld information from FOIA requestors for partisan political purposes.”

But the DHS Inspector General found that the Office of the Secretary “has had unprecedented involvement in the Freedom of Information Act process beginning in 2009.”

The report, distributed by the House Oversight Committee Republicans on Thursday, finds that “the department’s review process created inefficiencies that hampered full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.”

It says that in May 2009, staff in the Office of the Secretary asked questions about who was requesting a report on right-wing extremist groups. They asked for a list of all 33 organizations that requested a report on the threat of right-wing extremism.

Issa said that the requests for information on who made FOIA requests “reeks of a Nixonian enemies list, and this Committee will not tolerate it.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said that Issa’s “extreme accusations are unsubstantiated” and pointed out that the IG found that the process did not obstruct the ultimate release of information.

Mary Ellen Callahan, the chief FOIA officer and chief privacy officer at DHS, said in her written testimony that the “basic lack of awareness of significant FOIA responses presented challenges to the Department’s ability to effectively respond to inquires from the media, Congress and the public, inhibiting senior leadership’s ability to fulfill its responsibility to manage the Department and to engage the public on merit-based discussions related to the associated policy issues.”

The IG report does note that the problems in the FOIA process had been exaggerated on the web, specifically calling out the website of the conservative publication the American Thinker for an “inaccurate” animation that shows Janet Napolitano placing some FOIA requests in the trash. “As we have noted, the review process did not lead to the denial of eventual information disclosure,” the IG writes.

Late Update: “While the Committee’s report spends a good deal of space making allegations of politicization and obstruction, the facts simply do not support these claims,” Amy Kudwa of DHS said in a statement to TPM. “Ironically, the report itself is full of selective omissions and redactions that appear to have been made to support these allegations. Further, the report reaches altogether different conclusions than the independent Inspector General report that will be briefed at today’s hearing.”

“Though the Chairman has clearly already reached his conclusions, we appeared before the Committee in our continuing good faith effort to cooperate with the Committee’s oversight,” Kudwa said.

[Ed. note: this story has been updated.]

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