The Department of Transportation is citing "confidentiality interests of the Executive Branch" as the reason for hanging on to at least 53 documents the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wants to see.
The committee requested the documents for its investigation into whether DOT improperly lobbied Congress on behalf of the auto industry. DOT maintains that anti-lobbying measures do not apply in the alleged scheme because members of the agency contacted Congress directly. The measures only applies when an agency enlists citizens to lobby officials, lawyers for DOT argue.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) still wants a full look at the case. The situation emerged from California's request for an Environmental Protection Agency waiver that would allow it to heighten emissions standards in the state. When the deadline for EPA to make a decision neared, DOT employees contacted members of Congress about how the decision could affect the auto industry in their districts.
DOT Defends Lobbying Congress For Auto Industry
By Laura McGann - June 14, 2007
The Department of Transportation said in a letter earlier this week that anti-lobbying measures do not apply to its officers who contact members of Congress on behalf of the auto industry.
DOT announced this stance in a letter from the agency’s acting general counsel responding to the head of the House Committee on Oversight and Government’s request for information. The committee wants to hear more about an alleged plan to pressure members of Congress into persuading the Environmental Protection Agency to deny California a waiver allowing it to raise carbon emission standards.
DOT’s head lawyer Rosalind Knapp argued in her response that anti-lobbying law only applies when agencies call on private citizens to lobby Congress on their behalf. She also said that she advised several officials that it would not violate anti-lobbying provisions if they contacted members of Congress directly:
DOTs actions in no way violated anti-lobbying restrictions, as those provisions apply to and prohibit “grass roots” lobbying intended to encourage third parties, members of special interest groups, or the general public to contact members of Congreess or State legislatures in support of or opposition to a legistlative matter.
The executive director of The Project on Government Oversight Danielle Brian said the “grass roots” language comes from a case under the Reagan administration where the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin were accused of illegally lobbying Congress. The case made it illegal for agencies to get community members involved in lobbying, but allowed agencies to contact members of Congress directly.
Despite the historical standard, Brian said she still thinks DOT’s argument is worth challenging. “I think its important not to just accept the executive branch’s opinion on what is acceptable,” Danielle said. “Congressional lawyers need to look at that law as well.”
Waxman is still pursuing the issue. He responded to the letter from DOT’s general counsel Knapp saying that there is a "need for a thorough examination of the facts”
NOTE by Faith Chatham: The letter touches on a similar issue to that raised in Texas when US DOT stated that proposed legislation would violate Federal policy and probably cause loss of transportation funding.