the justice department’s new watchdog

Morning Edition’s sympathetic profile of Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz this morning is the type of story IG advocates envision. The battle between House Republicans  and Attorney General Eric Holder over access to documents related to the so-called “Fast and Furious” scandal look bad, the story begins:

But one man has already been sifting through secret emails about the operation known as Fast and Furious. He’s Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s new watchdog.

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holder’s house defectors

Last week’s unprecedented House floor vote holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt looks first of all like escalating institutional conflict at the confluence of divided government and partisan polarization. My research on congressional investigations with David Parker, like our “Divided We Quarrel” (2009) –  offers this sort of reading. But the 21 Democrats who defected, 21 voting to hold Holder civil and 17 voting to hold Holder in criminal contempt highlights a different story about the power of interest groups like the National Rifle Association in Congress. Slate’s Explainer asks, “Why is the NRA so Powerful?”

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contempt!

I mentioned the other day that charges of contempt against Attorney General Eric Holder followed a familiar storyline – episodes during the Reagan and Clinton years were resolved without a vote on the House floor. In a depressing sign of the times, however, yesterday the House of Representatives added a new chapter to the recent history of partisan institutional conflict. Attorney General Holder became the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress. At the same time, this article in Fortune set of a lot of rethinking about the facts in the underlying case. In a perfect twist, Representative Issa’s principled stand on the House floor weren’t even the day’s top news, having been overshadowed by the announcement only a short distance away of the Supreme Court’s health care decision.

a history of contempt

Yesterday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee voted to recommend Attorney General Eric Holder be held in contempt of Congress. The “Fast and Furious” scandal represents a sorry episode – and, to this observer at least, suggests symptoms of  long-term deficiencies of leadership and oversight. But yesterday was pure oversight theater. Almost six hours of hearings filled with angry recriminations between committee Democrats and Republicans cement Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa’s legacy in the annals of congressional contempt.  The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe observes:

Issa may want to be remembered as a serious, nonpartisan leader of government reform efforts, but Wednesday’s contempt vote — and the possibility of a full House vote on the matter next week — likely will cement his status as a partisan antagonist in the eyes of Democrats and a hero to conservative Republicans — whether he likes it or not.

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hill to va: scan faster!

At a hearing of the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee yesterday, National Archives executive William Bosanko testified about the truly massive backlog of paper waiting to be electronically scanned in the VA’s bid to go “paperless.” Nextgov relates:

Bosanko estimated the department would have to scan 60 million pieces of paper a month so that records could be used with the Veterans Benefits Management System — a feat that would require a staff of 4,000. He did not say how long the process could take.

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