Transportation Bill Would Force Agencies to Respond to Congress

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By Shaun Courtney

House appropriators want to circumvent a Trump administration policy by requiring transportation and housing agency chiefs to respond to congressional inquiries and prove it by submitting quarterly reports.

The requirements are contained in a spending bill approved July 17 by the House Appropriations Committee. The provisions, which formalize a long-standing tradition, call on agency heads to respond in “a consistent and timely manner” to members “regardless of political party.”

The move comes in response to a May letter from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that determined the executive branch can respond to members’ requests at its discretion and that the administration doesn’t have an obligation to respond to congressional requests.

Chao Questioned

The oversight question has dogged Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in both the House and Senate.

Chao was unwilling to say during an exchange with House Appropriations ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) at a June hearing that she would definitely respond to requests from members regardless of political party or leadership role.

“I can’t quite say that,” Chao told Lowey at the time.

Chao has a history and current practice of being bipartisan in her responsiveness to Congress, she said in later testimony.

“It is my intention to always respond to all congressional correspondences and requests without regard to party and seniority, and I believe that my record as secretary of Labor and thus far as secretary of Transportation demonstrates my good faith on this subject,” Chao told Senate appropriators during a July 13 hearing.

If the congressional inquiry provision becomes law, agency chiefs will have to send a report to House subcommittee appropriators within 30 days detailing correspondence by party, date received, and date responded.

The requirement was added as a manager’s amendment to the House transportation-housing subcommittee bill that the full Appropriations Committee approved.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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