Why Congress Should Stop Complaining About Transparency

January 17, 2014 Updated: April 24, 2016

One of the biggest knocks against the Obama Administration by Congress is that it is not transparent enough.  Congress is constantly in search of greater oversight of executive programs.  Case in point is new legislation seeking to require Health and Human Services to provide Congress with weekly addresses on the status of the Affordable Care Act.  These updates will include the number of individuals who have enrolled in plans as well as website traffic.

 Congress, however, has conceded some of its oversight and transparency authority to the executive in the past in terms of defense.  After September 11, 2001, Congress issued the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), which delegated enormous power to the president to carry out military action on those he deemed a threat to United States national security.  This was a huge deal given Congress’ declaration of war power allocated by the Constitution.  It also weakened Congress’ power under the War Powers Act and provided the president with a virtual blank check.

 In a report by the Washington Post yesterday, Congress is further restricting their oversight and transparency authority once again.  The Post reports, hidden in the $1 trillion omnibus bill is a provision that would keep the drone program under the jurisdiction of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) instead of shifting it to the Department of Defense (DoD) as the president and now CIA Director John Brennan originally outlined.    

 Not only would shifting the drone program to the DoD allow it to be subject to direct congressional oversight, but it would also put the program in the hands of proper personnel.  The CIA over the years has developed into a paramilitary force, which conflicts with its original intent of being an intelligence gathering entity.  The president had been discussing how he wanted to shift the program for some time especially given the flack his administration has received regarding “collateral damage” of innocent civilians killed in drone strikes.  The Post‘s report stated, “Senior officials, including CIA Director John O. Brennan, have warned that the agency’s emphasis on lethal operations deviates from its traditional mission and could impair its ability to focus on gathering intelligence.”

The Post went on to state, “Former U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence appropriations process said that aside from placing restrictions on funding, Congress could crate other obstacles – for example, requiring the Pentagon to certify that it has matched the CIA’s capabilities and targeting methodology before it is allowed to proceed.”  Many in Congress want to be assured the DoD will take the same precautions against collateral damage the CIA has.  This seems to be an exercise in futility as well as a “balk,” as the Post calls it, since the DoD are experts in military action.

I find it startling that Congress is further inhibiting its oversight power especially after a New York Times story stated President Obama decided to arm and train rebels in Syria long before he announced it publicly.  President Obama went through the CIA to carry out these actions rather than going through the DoD as to shield himself and the operations from congressional oversight.  With Congress constantly complaining about lack of transparency, it should behoove them to transfer the drone program to the Defense Department as the Obama Administration has expressed it wants to do.

With all the hoopla surrounding the secrecy of the NSA’s metadata collection, Congress has been up in arms about President Obama’s version of transparency.  Despite President Obama’s transparency efforts, Congress has been a harsh critic of those claims.  By shifting the controversial drone program to the DoD, Congress would have direct authority over it.  Congress now has no legitimacy to complain about the Obama Administration’s lack of transparency and instead has contributed to the secrecy surrounding covert executive programs.