- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2017

The White House isn’t trying to change longstanding tradition that allowed individual members of Congress to conduct oversight of the administration, President Trump’s top liaison to Capitol Hill said in a letter earlier this month.

Marc Short, director of legislative affairs, was trying to defuse concerns among both Democrats and Republicans, who had feared the White House was trying to impose strict limits on the flow of information to Capitol Hill.

In a legal opinion earlier this year, the Justice Department had said there was no obligation to respond to information or document requests that came from anyone other than committee chairmen.

But Mr. Short says that opinion is not the White House’s official policy, and said the new administration will try to respond to requests from anyone in Congress — though chairmen conducting official oversight investigations will still get priority.

“The administration’s policy is to respect the rights of all individual members, regardless of party affiliation, to request information about Executive Branch policies and programs,” Mr. Short wrote in a July 20 letter to Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.

Mr. Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is a master of Congressional oversight, using whistleblower tips and requests for information to expose wasteful or dangerous government policies.

He and other senators had said they would delay action on Trump nominees and other parts of the president’s agenda to protest the oversight policy.

On Friday, Mr. Grassley said called the new commitment “a very good start” — though he said the Justice Department should still rescind the legal opinion.

The fight gets to the heart of major constitutional issues.

Congress claims powers of oversight over the executive branch, while administrations of both parties frequently balk at what they see as intrusive scrutiny of their decision-making.

Mr. Grassley, though, said allowing more members of Congress to do oversight leads to better government.

“When all 535 members of Congress can effectively conduct oversight and get answers, they can better serve the American people,” he said.

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