|Congressman Griffith's Weekly E-Newsletter 5.20.13
Monday, May 20, 2013 â€“
The Tone is Set at the Top
Some scandals currently engulfing Washington â€“ such as the Administrationâ€™s actions surrounding the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, the Department of Justice (DOJ) having subpoenaed two months of the Associated Pressâ€™ phone records, and investigations into the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) improperly handling applications submitted by â€śTea Partyâ€ť or â€śPatriotâ€ť groups â€“ have received quite a bit of media attention.
Another brewing scandal hasnâ€™t yet received similar attention. Not only has the IRS admitted to improperly handling applications from conservative groups, but the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) recently released a report claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) waives the access fees through the Freedom of Information Act for public records for left-leaning environmental groups more than 90 percent of the time, but refuses more than 90 percent of the time to waive those fees for conservative groups. That means CEIâ€™s data indicates that nine times out of ten, the EPA is giving records to the first group for free, and that nine times out of ten they are charging groups that disagree with their policies.
Testifying recently before the Energy and Commerce Committee, EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe was asked about CEIâ€™s claims. Mr. Perciasepe indicated that he has asked the independent office of the Inspector General to conduct a â€śprogrammatic auditâ€ť of these fee decisions.
Attorney General Eric Holder is the head of the DOJ, the agency that secretly obtained two months of logs for phone lines used by more than 100 Associated Press reporters without a court order. While legal, subpoenas of this nature are supposed to be authorized by the Attorney General, but this action was authorized by his deputy. On Wednesday, May 15, the Attorney General testified before the House Judiciary Committee, where he was asked about this. I watched large portions of the hearing, and was shocked as the Attorney General repeatedly replied to questions with statements along the lines of â€śI donâ€™t knowâ€ť or â€śI donâ€™t have a factual basis to answer the questions you have asked because I recused myself.â€ť
On Friday, May 17, ousted Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee. Mr. Miller stated â€śI donâ€™t think targeting is wrong.â€ť* Furthermore, the publication Politico reported that Mr. Miller â€śspent most of the hearing saying he didnâ€™t remember things â€“ like the details of how he first learned of the targeting â€“ and insisting he didnâ€™t mislead Congress by not telling lawmakersâ€ť when asked at a hearing in July 2012 if Tea Party and other conservative groups were being targeted by the IRS. Mr. Miller seemed to believe that asking the conservative groups questions not asked of other ideological groups did not qualify as harassment. Really?
I ask again â€“ really? The attorney in me thinks that maybe Mr. Miller should have asked about the Fifth Amendment, and the right to remain silent. At least he should have respected the old Abraham Lincoln adage, â€śbetter to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.â€ť
These scandals have a similar tone â€“ one having to do with abuses of power. Investigations must continue, because there are lots of unanswered questions.
Who is responsible?
John F. Savarese and Jonathan M. Moses write in the Bank and Corporate Governance Law Reporter, â€śthe voice that carries farthest within any company comes from the top â€“ so consider having your CEO speak periodically about the importance of maintaining an effective compliance culture. â€¦â€ť
American Civil Liberties Unionâ€™s (ACLU) executive director Anthony Romero sums up that principle perfectly when he says â€śThe tone is set at the top.â€ť He also says â€śthe [P]resident bears responsibility for what his government officials can and should do.â€ť
I donâ€™t often quote the ACLU in agreement, but if the shoe fitsâ€¦
An ineffective compliance culture in federal offices is a product of leadership, of those in management roles. Ultimately, that is the President. If the tone at the top is divisive and â€śitâ€™s us versus them,â€ť it serves as a signal through rhetoric and actions that the sort of behavior that led to these scandals â€“ that led to the IRS asking the Coalition for Life of Iowa to â€śdetail the content of the members of your organizationâ€™s prayersâ€ť** â€“ is acceptable.
Whether you call it the tone at the top or where the buck stops, it is like the motto of Democratic President Harry Truman, who had a placard on his desk that said â€śthe buck stops here.â€ť
Mr. President, you have set the tone. The buck stops at your desk in the Oval Office.
Thoughts and Prayers
My family and I are continuing to keep the people of Damascus in our thoughts and prayers following the Appalachian Trail Days accident on Saturday, May 18.
As always, if you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office by email, please visit my website at