House Oversight and Reform Committee may question individuals under oath during investigations

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Environment & Energy Daily reports: “House Democrats have granted their lead oversight committee the right to privately question witnesses under oath during investigations, adding a powerful tool to a panel poised to dig into the Bush administration’s climate change policies.” We told E&E Daily: “When you have a stonewalling administration and you have the executive branch using its evasive maneuvers, the ability to put people under oath…is potentially a very valuable tool.”

E&E Daily (by subscription)
January 9, 2007
(#1 story)

Deposition threat added to House Dems’ investigation arsenal

Darren Samuelsohn, E&E Daily senior reporter


The new House rule approved last week allows members or staff from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee to conduct depositions with witnesses behind closed doors, adding an extra layer of information gathering to the panel beyond its typical arsenal of subpoenas and right to ask questions under oath during a hearing.

While several Senate committees also have deposition authority, no other House panel has the permanent authority to force witnesses to answer questions in a pre- or post-hearing setting.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has offered only broad descriptions of what he intends to do with his panel. Sources on and off Capitol Hill expect Waxman to probe allegations the White House has suppressed scientific data on global warming and imposed an overly strict policy for media interviews with government scientists.

We hope this committee will continue in as much of a bipartisan manner as possible, after the good work Mr. Waxman and Mr. Davis initiated in 2006 on climate change. 

[T]he ranking member of the Government Reform Committee, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), supports the change in rules.

“The devil is going to be in the details of how they implement this authority,” said David Marin, committee staff director for Davis. “If used judiciously, it can be a valuable tool for this committee. If it’s not, and it’s simply used to harass individuals in the Bush administration, that’ll be a real shame.”

We are identifying oversight issues that the committee might wish to look into, perhaps pursuing a few lines of questioning of certain individuals under oath about climate science communication and the Climate Change Science Program under the current administration, to help clear up some matters that we believe should be investigated. This can be done in a way that serves the public interest and gives lawmakers information they need for oversight and potential development of legislation, without an abuse of authority. 

Rick Piltz…of the advocacy group Climate Science Watch, said investigative power has the potential for abuse. But he said he expected Democrats to use the deposition threat wisely.

“When you have a stonewalling administration and you have the executive branch using its evasive maneuvers, the ability to put people under oath to testify is potentially a very valuable tool,” Piltz said.

Stay tuned.

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