June 19, 2007


'Signing Statements' Study Finds Administration Has Ignored Laws (Jonathan Weisman, 6/18/07, Washington Post)

For the first time, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office -- Congress's investigative arm -- tried to ascertain whether the administration has made good on such declarations of presidential power. In appropriations acts for fiscal 2006, GAO investigators found 160 separate provisions that Bush had objected to in signing statements. They then chose 19 to follow.

Of those 19 provisions, six -- nearly a third -- were not carried out according to law. Ten were executed by the executive branch. On three others, conditions did not require an executive branch response.

The instances of noncompliance were not as dramatic as some of the signing statements that have caused the most stir, such as Bush's suggestion that he was not bound by a ban on torture in U.S. military detention facilities. But congressional aides said they were significant.

For example, Congress directed U.S. Customs and Border Protection to relocate its checkpoints around Tucson every seven days to improve efforts to combat illegal immigration. But the agency took the law as an "advisory provision" that was "not always consistent with CBP's mission requirements." Instead, the agency periodically shut down its checkpoints for short periods of time, believing that would comply with congressional demands.

Frustrated by the Pentagon's broad budget submissions for the "global war on terrorism," Congress demanded in its 2006 military spending law that the Defense Department break down its 2007 budget request to show the detailed costs of global military operations, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The department ignored the order. While the Pentagon did break out the costs of operations in the Balkans and at Guantanamo Bay, it did not detail expenditures in other operations.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also ignored Congress's demand that it submit an expenditure plan for housing assistance and alternatives to the approaches that failed after Hurricane Katrina. FEMA told the GAO that it does not normally produce such plans.

In all those instances, presidential signing statements had asserted that congressional demands were encroaching on Bush's prerogatives to control executive branch employees as he sees fit and to receive effective services from his employees. White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Congress should not be surprised that the administration carried out the recommendations of the signing statements, although he cautioned that he could not know whether the agencies took action because of the statements.

"The signing statements assert the president's understanding of how the law should be executed, pursuant to his understanding of the Constitution, and that's the way we deal with them," Fratto said.

But Democratic lawmakers jumped on what they see as the actions of an imperial presidency with little respect for the law or the legislative branch.

"The administration is thumbing its nose at the law," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who requested the GAO study and legal opinion along with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.).

"This GAO opinion underscores the fact that the Bush White House is constantly grabbing for more power, seeking to drive the people's branch of government to the sidelines," Byrd said in a joint statement with Conyers.

The Executive ought to detail how it spends the money the Legislative provides, but ought not submit to micromanagement of its functions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2007 7:52 AM

Those provisions are to petty to be micro, more like nanomanagement.

Congress should impeach the heads of FEMA, Customs and Defense if these are so serious.

Posted by: Bob at June 19, 2007 9:06 AM

The "non-partisan" GAO complains only when the Democrats are in power. Why?

Moving check points every 7 days: a bureaucratic nightmare. The illegals would be released anyway, those who caught them would be reprimanded or worse. Why bother?

FEMA ignored demands, Pentagon ignored orders.
When have entrenched bureaucracies ever taken orders? The States Dept.? The CIA? The FBI? These organisms have lives of their own. Presidents, Congresses come and go, bureaucrats stay the same. Anyway, Congresses change their minds every couple of months, who can keep up?

"seeking to drive the people's branch of government to the sidelines" The way politicians carry on with their earmarks are actually driving the people who elected them to the sidelines. The White House is just "seeking", Congress is actually "driving" the people to the sidelines.

Posted by: ic at June 19, 2007 11:12 AM

Anyone remember Clinton's executive orders and "stroke of the hand = law of the land.

Posted by: erp at June 19, 2007 1:13 PM