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Public Statements

Syria

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRASSLEY. Madam President, this is Sunshine Week--a week that is observed annually to point out the public's business ought to be public and that government, except in the cases of national security, should be open to public inspection. This week coincides with the birthday of James Madison, the Founding Father known for his emphasis on checks and balances in government and advocacy of open government.

Open government and transparency are essential to maintaining our democratic form of government. Although it is Sunshine Week, I am sorry to report that contrary to the proclamations President Obama made when he took office 3 years ago--and he made them, in fact, within hours after his swearing in--that 3 years later the Sun still isn't shining on the public's business in Washington, DC. So there is a real disconnect between the President's words and the actions of his administration.

On his first full day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act. This memo went to the heads of executive agencies. In it, the President instructed these executive agencies to ``adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in the Freedom of Information Act, and usher in a new era of open government.''

We all know actions speak louder than words. Unfortunately, based on his own administration's actions, it appears the President's words about open government and transparency are words that can be ignored. If not ignored by the President--and maybe well-intended on the part of the President--being ignored down to the bowels of the bureaucracy.

Given my experience in trying to pry information out of the executive branch, and based on investigations I have conducted, and inquiries by the media, I am disappointed to report that President Obama's statements about transparency are not being put into practice. In other words, it is a little bit like ``business as usual.'' I had the same problems when we had Republican Presidents. But based upon the President's pronouncements after his swearing in, I expected things to be totally different in this administration, and I don't find them to be any different. Federal agencies under the control of the President's political appointees have been more aggressive than ever in withholding information from the public and from the Congress.

Throughout my career, I have been actively conducting oversight of the executive branch, regardless of who controls the Congress or what party controls the White House. When the agencies I am reviewing get defensive, and when they refuse to respond to my requests, it makes me wonder what they are trying to hide. Over the last year, many of my requests for information from various agencies have been turned down again and again either because I am ranking member or because I am not chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Agencies within the executive branch have repeatedly cited the Privacy Act as a part of the rationale for their decision not to grant requests even though the Privacy Act explicitly says it is not meant to limit the flow of information from the executive branch to the Congress.

This disregard by the executive branch for the clear language of the law is disheartening, and so it is quite appropriate during Sunshine Week we bring out the truth. Citing another example, since January 2011, Chairman ISSA and I have been stonewalled by Attorney General Holder and by other people in the Justice Department regarding our investigation of Operation Fast and Furious. This deadly operation let thousands of weapons ``walk'' from the United States into Mexico.

Despite the fact the Department of Justice inspector general possesses over 80,000 relevant documents, Congress has received only around 6,000 in response to a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee. Even basic documents about the case have been withheld by the Justice Department. Yet the Department insists on telling us--and before they tell us, they seem to tell the press--that they are cooperating with Senator Grassley and Congressman ISSA. The Sun must shine on Fast and Furious so the public can understand how such a dangerous operation took place and what can be done to prevent such stupid actions of our government in the future.

I have also worked hard to bring transparency to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is an executive branch agency that desperately needs more sunshine. Over the past 2 years, I have been investigating rampant fraud, waste, and abuse at public housing authorities throughout the country. I have discovered exorbitant salaries paid to executive staff, conflicts of interest, poor living conditions, and outright fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. Many of these abuses have been swept under the rug, and Housing and Urban Development has been slow at correcting the problems.

HUD cannot keep writing checks to these local housing authorities and then blindly hope the money gets to those Congress intended to help. I will continue to work to bring sunshine to the Department of Housing and Urban Development as well.

In April of last year, I requested documents from the Federal Communication Commission regarding a valuable regulatory waiver it granted to a company called LightSquared. LightSquared was attempting to build a satellite phone network in a band of spectrum adjacent to global positioning systems.

The problem is that LightSquared's network causes interference with critical GPS users such as the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, and NASA.

The FCC responded to my document request by saying they don't give documents to anyone but the two chairs of the committee with direct jurisdiction over the Federal Communications Commission. How idiotic. Because that means that if someone is not chairman of a committee--in other words, if a person is in the 99.6 percent of the Congress which does not chair a committee--with direct jurisdiction, then as a Member of Congress they are out of luck and can't fulfill their responsibilities of constitutional oversight and can't be a check, as envisioned by Madison writing the Constitution, on the executive branch of government.

In this letter to me from Chairman Genachowski, he told me he would make his staff available even if I didn't get the documents. So I could interview the staff. But when I took him up on his offer and asked him to interview members of his staff, my request was refused.

Once again, actions speak louder than words. People can get away with lying, and there is stonewalling, pure and simple. It seems obvious that the FCC is embarrassed and afraid of what might come from uncovering the facts behind what the Washington Post called the LightSquared debacle. If there is nothing to hide, then why all the stonewalling? The FCC seems determined to stonewall any attempt at transparency.

But it is not just the executive branch that needs more transparency. The judiciary should be transparent and accessible as well. That is why over a decade ago I introduced the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, a bipartisan bill which will allow judges at all Federal courts to open their courtrooms to television cameras and radio broadcasts. By letting the Sun shine in on Federal courtrooms, Americans will have an opportunity to better understand the judicial process.

The sunshine effort has no better friend than whistleblowers. Private citizens and government employees who come forward with allegations of wrongdoing and coverups risk their livelihoods to expose misconduct. The value of whistleblowers is the reason I continue to challenge the bureaucracy and Congress to support whistleblowers.

For over two decades, I have learned from, appreciated, and honored whistleblowers. Congress needs to make a special note of the role whistleblowers play in helping us fulfill our constitutional duty of conducting oversight of the executive branch. The information provided by whistleblowers is vital to effective congressional oversight. Documents alone are insufficient when it comes to understanding a dysfunctional bureaucracy. Only whistleblowers can explain why something is wrong and provide the best evidence to prove it. Moreover, only whistleblowers can help us truly understand problems with the culture at government agencies.

Whistleblowers have been instrumental in uncovering $700 being spent on toilet seats at the Department of Defense. These American heroes were also critical in our learning about how the FDA missed the boat and approved Vioxx, how government contracts were inappropriately steered at the General Services Administration, and how Enron was cooking the books and ripping off investors.

Similar to all whistleblowers, each whistleblower in these cases demonstrated tremendous courage. They stuck out their necks for the good of us all. They spoke the truth. They didn't take the easy way out by going along to get along or looking the other way when they saw a wrongdoing.

I have said it for many years--without avail, of course--I would like to see a President or this President of the United States have a Rose Garden ceremony honoring whistleblowers. This would send a message from the very top of the bureaucracy to the lowest levels about the importance and value of whistleblowers. We all ought to be grateful for what they do and appreciate the very difficult circumstances they often have to endure to do so, sacrificing their family's finances, their employability, and the attempts by powerful interests to smear their good names and intentions.

I have used my experience working with whistleblowers to promote legislation that protects them from retaliation. Legislation such as the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the False Claims Act recognize the benefits of whistleblowers and offer protection to those seeking to uncover the truth. For example, whistleblowers have used the False Claims Act to help the Federal Government recover more than $30 billion since Congress passed my qui tam amendments in 1986.

These laws are a good step; however, more can be done. For example, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act will provide much needed updates to Federal whistleblower protections. I am proud to be an original cosponsor, and I believe the Senate should move this important legislation immediately. This bill includes updates to the Whistleblower Protection Act to address negative interpretations of the Whistleblower Protection Act from both the Merit System Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

I started my remarks by quoting James Madison, the Founding Father who is one of the inspirations for Sunshine Week. Madison understood the dangers posed by the type of conduct we are seeing from President Obama's political appointees. Madison explained that:

[a] popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.

I will continue doing what I can to hold this administration's feet to the fire, to protect whistleblowers, to get the truth out, and to save the taxpayers' money.

I hope my colleagues will help work with me so we can move toward restoring real sunshine, in both words and actions, in Washington, DC.

I yield the floor.

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