Last week, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held several hearings to examisne the unacceptable backlog of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and the lack of transparency from the Obama Administration. FOIA was signed into law in 1966 and allows the public to request records from any federal agency covered by FOIA. Last year, 100 agencies were subjected to FOIA and anyone has the ability to file a FOIA request by submitting a letter to the agency.
On President Obama’s first full day in office, he committed to creating openness and transparency in the government. However, the Administration has catastrophically failed to live up to this promise. In March 2014, the AP reported that the Obama Administration more often than any other administration has censored government files or outright denied access. Of the more than 700,000 FOIA requests received by the Administration last year, less than 30 percent yielded a full disclosure of records to the requestor. Even worse, nearly 40 percent of requests received no results at all.
The worst offender of the backlog is the Department of Homeland Security. While DHS receives more FOIA requests than any other federal entity, the department also has the largest backlog of FOIA requests. In fiscal year 2014, the DHS backlog more than doubled from 51,575 to 103,480. DHS now accounts for nearly 65 percent of the entire federal backlog. During the hearings this week, I pressed the witnesses for answers on this unacceptable backlog and highlighted the need for my legislation to reduce, improve and streamline the FOIA request process at DHS.
Recently, the House Committee on Homeland Security passed my bill, H.R. 1615, the DHS FOIA Efficiency Act of 2015, and it now heads to the House floor for consideration of the full House of Representatives. I will continue to push for support of my bill and other legislation to reduce the FOIA backlog and force the Administration to be accountable for their commitment to transparency.
To watch my questioning from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, please click thelink.
Monday, June 1: After retuning back from Cuba last night, I’m delighted this morning to welcome the Lombardo family to the Capitol. Joe Lombardo is the executive vice president of the Aerospace Group of General Dynamics, the parent company of Gulfstream Aerospace, and it is an honor to welcome Joe and his family, including his three grandchildren, to Washington. One of the true pleasures of serving in Congress is to welcome folks from back home to the Capitol.
Later, I meet with the American Society of Civil Engineers to discuss the federal Highway Trust Fund, reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration bill and implementation of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. Afterwards, I am able to spend some time with two of our interns, Mark Petit and Myles Handy, who are working their last day today. Later in the afternoon, I participate in a telephone town hall meeting with McKesson Health Care and the pharmacies they distribute to as I have the opportunity to update them on pharmacy issues currently being discussed in Congress. This is followed by our weekly Whip meeting, where we discuss bills that we will be voting on this week as well as the status of legislation that will be coming up in the near future.
Afterwards, we have our only vote series of the day as we vote on Natural Resources Committee bills including H.R. 1335, which draws some controversy among coastal districts who feel that the bill is too restrictive on recreational fisherman who want to fish for red snapper.
Tuesday, June 2: I begin today with a meeting of the Republican Conference followed by a meeting with representatives from drug manufacturing companies to hear their issues of concern. Afterwards, I meet with Gary Brand of Brand Ferland Advisors in Savannah to discuss the regulatory challenges that entrepreneurs face including those related to health care, tax reform and access to capital through financial institutions. After doing an interview with the Atlanta Business Chronicle to discuss the Export-Import Bank and funding for the Port of Brunswick, I head to the House chamber for our first series of votes of the day.
As I return to the office, I meet with Bob Vandervoort, the Executive Director of Pro-English, an organization that works to educate the public about the need to protect English and make it the official language of the U.S. Later, I have my first committee meeting of the week as the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform discusses transparency in the Freedom of Information Act. This hearing is of particular interest to me as I am sponsoring H.R. 1513, a bill that deals with the backlog of FOIA requests within the Department of Homeland Security. After returning to my office, I meet with representatives from Caterpillar, followed by the National Association of Manufactures before heading back to the House chamber for our final vote series of the day.
Wednesday, June 3: I start the morning meeting a family visiting from the district at the White House at 7:30 a.m. After returning to the office, I meet with Louis Dreyfus Commodities, the parent company of Imperial Sugar in Port Wentworth, to discuss sugar imports from Mexico before heading to another OGR hearing dealing with FOIA. Whereas yesterday we heard from journalists and citizens concerning their experiences with FOIA requests, today we hear from the agencies regarding their needs to improve responses to FOIA requests.
Next, I head to an Education and the Workforce Committee meeting concerning the National Labor Relation Board’s assault on Right-to-Work before heading to the House chamber where I preside over the floor during one minute speeches and general debate. After stepping down from presiding, I stay in the House chamber for our first series of votes of the day, a series of eight amendments. Afterwards, I am interviewed by WSB in Atlanta regarding Trade Promotion Authority and the hearings we have been having in OGR pertaining to FOIA requests.
Once back at my office, I meet with representatives from the Georgia Credit Unions followed by GenoPath, a company that uses genetic testing to determine what prescription drugs are the most beneficial for each individual patient. After returning to the House chamber for our last series of votes for the day, I head to the National Aeronautics Association meeting where Savannah’s own Gulfstream Aerospace is being awarded the Collier Trophy. Awarded annually for the very best aviation and aerospace accomplishment in the world, Gulfstream is receiving this year’s award for their work on the G-650.
Thursday, June 4: My morning starts with a radio interview with Bill Edwards on WTKS as we talk about our ribbon cutting for the Savannah District office tomorrow morning, as well as the USA Freedom Act that was finally passed by the Senate on Tuesday night.
Next, I meet with Slade Rowland from Glynn General Corporation, whose corporate office is located in St. Simons, about the importance of infrastructure investment and tax issues affecting small businesses.
After attending an Education and the Workforce member briefing on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, I return to my office where I meet with Scott and Frances Smith and their grandsons who are visiting from the district followed by a meeting with my fellow Wesley Monumental Church member and good friend Anne Thompson who is representing the American Physical Therapist Association. Next, I head to the House chamber where we have our first and only vote series of the day.
Before heading to the airport to return home for the weekend, I meet with my good friend, Rep. Jesse Petrea from Savannah, who is up here with his family visiting. Rep. Petrea just finished his first session in the Georgia Legislature and is doing an excellent job.
Friday, June 5: We are having our first staff retreat this weekend here in Savannah and I have my district staff as well as my Washington staff in town. As is the case any Friday morning I am at home, I attend my Band of Brothers prayer breakfast at 6:30 a.m. in Garden City and this morning, I am joined by six male members of my staff, who all have a great experience and now understand why 150-175 men get up early every Friday morning to learn more about God’s word. Today is a special day for my staff and I as we have the grand opening of our Savannah district office located at 6602 Abercorn St. The turnout is fantastic and we could not be prouder of our new “digs” and look forward to serving the citizens of the First Congressional District from this office.
Later that afternoon my staff and I, led by my Chief of Staff Chris Crawford, meet to review our first five months in office and discuss our mission statement and goals for the future. As a business owner for nearly 27 years, I understand the importance of surrounding yourself with good people and I could not be prouder of the fine staff that we have in place.