Chairman Chooses Political Theater over Real Oversight Related to Commerce Inspector General and the National Weather Service

Jul 15, 2015
Chairman Chooses Political Theater over Real Oversight Related to Commerce Inspector General and the National Weather Service

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing after issuing subpoenas to two retired National Weather Service officials. The two witnesses invoked their constitutionally protected 5th Amendment right and did not answer questions. The Chairman continued to question the witnesses for several minutes on the topic after the individuals clearly invoked their 5th Amendment right. After numerous points of order from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) contesting the line of questioning and the conduct of the Chair, the witnesses were dismissed.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said, “We have two retired NWS employees who were compelled to attend this hearing by Congressional subpoena despite the fact that they have both indicated they plan on exercising their Constitutional right to not speak here today. I'm not sure an issue with a single post-employment contract is worthy of this spectacle, Mr. Chairman. I want to be clear that I am not defending these gentlemen's conduct, to the degree we understand it, but I question the aggressive action of this Committee when the Chairman has been so reluctant to act in other areas.

“The systemic failure at NWS is matched by a different systemic failure in the Commerce IG’s office. That office received allegations regarding Mr. Jiron's actions in January of 2012. By August 2012, the IG was briefed on the findings and nearly 20 interviews had been completed. The report was essentially done at that point. Then it died. Nothing happened with this case for years. Then, almost two years later, the IG rushed to issue this report, at about the same time the IG's office was being investigated by this Committee.

“While this report may be 100% accurate, and Mr. Greenblatt may have done a public service in shepherding the report to completion, I have to look at the timing of the report's release with some skepticism. Knowing that the report was revived at a moment that saw the leadership in the office looking for sensational products to convince this Committee to drop our bipartisan investigation of the former IG Todd Zinser and his office makes me question the end product.

“I think it is worth reminding the Members of this Committee about that investigation of the IG's office. This investigation began as a bipartisan effort. It included three bipartisan letters from the Committee, including two document requests. It included a number of staff interviews of Commerce IG employees. And it included the establishment of a network of whistleblowers providing information to the Committee.

“This investigation bore much fruit. It uncovered a pattern of whistleblower intimidation and retaliation by the Inspector General, Todd Zinser, and his deputy, Morgan Kim. It uncovered evidence of gross mismanagement of the office, some of which likely violated Federal law and regulations. It uncovered possible false statements to Congress during Mr. Zinser's confirmation process. Perhaps most importantly, it uncovered extensive evidence of Todd Zinser and Morgan Kim's personal efforts to obstruct the Committee's investigation. This evidence led me to ask the President to remove Mr. Zinser from office. I am attaching that letter and my March floor statement outlining the results of the investigation, as well as our past letters, to my statement today.

“This evidence led the Chairman down a different path. The Chairman pushed the investigation over to the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency or CIGIE. However, we have it on good authority that the FBI sought information to support the Chairman’s letter to CIGIE on two separate occasions and the Majority staff did not respond, leaving the CIGIE investigation to die a quiet death.

“It is confusing to me that on the one hand the Chair quietly tolerated the most obvious and well-documented obstruction this Committee has seen in at least a quarter century, while on the other hand the Chair has issued more subpoenas in the past year than the previous six Committee chairs combined. And last week the Majority accused the EPA of obstruction based on zero supporting evidence of those claims. I wish this Committee would focus a little less on political theater and a little more on real, documented wrong-doing.

“I am sending the Acting Commerce Inspector General a letter instructing him to retain all records in anticipation of my sending a referral to the Department of Justice regarding criminal misconduct by the former Commerce Inspector General and others. In coming days, I will send that referral to the Department of Justice and I would welcome any of my colleagues who wish to engage in real oversight to join me in that letter.”

Read her full statement here.