Here’s a sad truth about Congress
It has a propensity to exempt itself from the rules it applies to others
In cautioning federal agencies about an outrageous provision of the federal Freedom of Information Act, a Texas congressman has reminded the American people of it, too.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, has sent letters to about a dozen agencies regarding press inquiries about government documents. Hensarling is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
His letters cautioned agencies that if asked by journalists, they should not release any communications with his committee.
Hensarling reminded those in the executive branch that under the law, Congress, not the executive branch, has control over whether documents, printed or electronic, are released to the press and public.
He is correct. In enacting the Freedom of Information Act, Congress was careful to exempt itself from compliance. In other words, the only explanation for a refusal to release any document involving a communication with lawmakers is, “We don’t have to do that.”
There may be reasons some communications between agencies and Congress should be confidential. In Hensarling’s committee, such documents could tip financial institutions off to potential action by lawmakers.
But a blanket exemption from the Freedom of Information Act is absurd. It already contains strict safeguards to protect national security and to handle other legitimate concerns about confidentiality.
The exclusion is just one more example — and there are many — of Congress telling everyone else what to do while exempting itself.