House Republicans Hammer White House on Transparency

House Republicans held a hearing on White House transparency and openness, or what they see as the lack of it, and got some mileage out of the fact that the White House declined to send any witnesses. "The White House has gone out of its way not to be transparent," said Joe Barton (R-Tex.). "This president is stiffing us."

While Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) defended the administration, pointing out that the House Energy & Commerce Committee had only given the minimum six-days notice, Republicans suggested the administration could have come up with at least one representative in six days if it had wanted to. And even Democrat Anthony Weiner of New York said it was irresponsible and wrong for the White House not to send someone.

The hearing did not deal specifically with any FCC-related issues of transparency, although it did focus on White House logs of visits, an issue some Republicans raised regarding the network-neutrality rules. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) also talked about the so called "czars" the president had appointed without benefit of Senate confirmation, four of which the administration agreed to defund as part of budget negotiations. One of the positions targeted had been the FCC's chief diversity officer, but that was not one of the four defunded.

Among the other issues were the administration's failure to respond to various FOIA requests, and the fact that the president had sought 30-plus waivers of his own declaration that lobbyists would not get policymaking jobs in his administration.

Democrats attempted to turn the hearing into a referendum on legislators' own contacts with lobbyists, suggesting that it should be equally important to find out what oil company representatives Senators and Congressmen were meeting with in cigar bars--a fancier title for "smoke-filled rooms."

Anne Weismann, chief counsel, for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a Democrat-recommended witness and so the closest to an administration defender, acknowledged there was an issue with FOIA responses, but suggested that was because the folks at the agencies responding to them didn't have the resources and training, and agreed with Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) that another factor was that they were career folks used to doing it a certain way.

Weismann put in a plug for legislation that would help by instituting a public-interest test for information that the administration attempts to protect via deliberative process exemptions.

Asked to stand by a statement she had made that the administration was, at best, marginally more transparent than previous ones, she did, but said one of the problems was a disconnect between the president's directive and agencies.

C-SPAN's ears must have been burning. It was evoked by numerous Republicans because of the president's suggestion during the healthcare debate that the negotiations be televised. They weren't, but Democrats pointed out that there was plenty of other televised coverage of the process.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.