Add some bite to congressional oversight 

Rep. Jack Brooks, a feisty Texas Democrat, was chairman of the House Committee on Government Operations from 1975 to 1988. Washington bureaucrats testifying before his panel for the first time quickly learned that he didn’t tolerate fools or evasive witnesses. Brooks assembled an infamous group of staff investigators who, according to Hill lore, more closely resembled hungry barracudas than congressional aides. House Republicans would do well to study the Brooks approach if they are serious about getting control of federal spending or challenging President Barack Obama’s frequent use of bureaucratic decrees to initiate policies rejected by Congress.

Among the House Republicans who assumed committee chairmanships after the 2010 election, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and California Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, have been the most aggressive about asserting congressional oversight authority against the executive branch.

Predictably, the president and his key political appointees have successfully resisted most of those efforts. Upton chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and thus is in a key position to monitor boondoggles. Upton’s panel has requested documents from the Department of Energy concerning its $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra Corp., a solar energy firm often praised by Obama.

The president’s appointees at the Energy Department, as well as at the Office of Management Budget, which evaluated the loan guarantee, have defied a congressional subpoena and refused to turn over documents Congress has an unquestioned right to see.

Similarly, Issa’s committee has pressed the National Labor Relations Board for documents concerning its attempt to prevent Boeing from building a new assembly plant in South Carolina, a right-to-work state where nonunion workers would build 30 percent of the firm’s new 787 commercial airliners. The NLRB claims Boeing’s decision is an unfair labor practice because it amounts to retaliation against the International Association of Machinists, the union representing the company’s workers in Seattle where the bulk of 787 work is to be done.

“NLRB’s action in the case against Boeing has the potential to create a job-killing precedent just as U.S. manufacturers are working toward economic recovery. That a Washington, D.C.-based bureaucracy could dictate the work location and parameters for a world-leading company is unprecedented in a global economy and hobbles a leading American job creator at a time of economic vulnerability,” Issa said in an Aug. 17 letter accompanying the committee’s subpoena for the documents.

Many of the documents sought by Upton and Issa have still not been provided.

When Congress returns from its August recess, House Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the Republican leadership should give Upton and Issa whatever support is required to compel the administration to comply with lawfully issued congressional subpoenas, up to and including barring expenditure of funds related to the Solyndra loan guarantees or enforcing the NLRB’s Boeing decision.

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