Joint Committee Report Shows No Wrongdoing in Recordkeeping at the Interior Department

Full Committee on Oversight and Reform
Full Committee on Oversight and Reform
Published: Aug 22, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, released a staff report detailing how the evidence before the Committees to date shows that the Department of Interior’s recordkeeping practices are in full compliance with federal law.
Background:
Approximately six months ago, Chairman Elijah Cummings and Chairman Raul Grijalva initiated partisan investigations into allegations that the DOI was hiding meetings taken by then-Acting Secretary David Bernhardt. Traditionally, the Oversight and Reform Committee has overseen compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and records management laws on a bipartisan basis. Chairman Cummings opened his investigation without consulting Republican Committee Members. Likewise, in an unprecedented and overbroad initial document request, Chairman Grijalva requested the entirety of Bernhardt’s calendars and schedules from the time of his confirmation as the Deputy Secretary of the Interior without consulting a single Republican Natural Resources Committee Member.
Bernhardt and DOI have cooperated extensively with the Chairmen’s investigations. DOI has produced tens of thousands of pages of documents, including Bernhardt’s calendars, daily cards, and scheduling emails. DOI has also made four employees available for day-long interviews with the Committees. The Committees have a comprehensive record from which to judge DOI’s compliance with federal law.
Read the full staff report here.
Key points from the staff report:
  • Contrary to allegations, Secretary Bernhardt takes his ethics obligations very seriously. Bernhardt places an emphasis on ethics. As Secretary and Deputy Secretary, Bernhardt implemented several new procedures to ensure he complied with his ethics requirements. These procedures exceed any requirements ever implemented for previous secretaries or deputy secretaries.
  • Contrary to allegations, Secretary Bernhardt is not hiding his meetings from the public. The Department publishes Bernhardt’s meetings on its official website and makes scheduling documents available on its official website. Although discrepancies may exist between varying types of Bernhardt’s scheduling documents, the different purposes of the documents explain such discrepancies. The discrepancies do not evidence that Bernhardt is nefariously hiding his meetings.
  •  Contrary to allegations, Secretary Bernhardt is not using vague meeting labels to hide his meeting participants. The Department publishes Bernhardt’s meetings, including attendees, each week on its official website. Bernhardt’s calendars are created for internal use-not for a public audience. The use of vague meeting labels does not suggest an effort to hide his meetings, and witnesses denied any effort to hide the Secretary’s meetings.
  • Contrary to allegations, Secretary Bernhardt’s calendar records are appropriately preserved. Bernhardt’s calendar records are preserved, have been produced to the Committees, and are available on the Department’s official website. Following an independent review, the National Archives determined that the Department has appropriately preserved the Secretary’s calendar records.
  • The Trump Administration has cooperated extensively with Chairman Cummings’s and Chairman Grijalva’s investigation. Contrary to Chairman Cummings’s assertions of a “cover-up” on all congressional investigations and Chairman Grijalva’s allegation that Bernhardt treats “congressional requests for information as a nuisance he can ignore,” the Department has cooperated with this investigation. The Department has voluntarily produced documents and made several witnesses available for day-long transcribed interviews. The Department has been transparent and forthcoming in responding to all of the chairmen’s partisan demands.
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