Did the House Intelligence Committee Break Congressional Transparency Rules?

HPSCI Official Seal

A meeting of the House Intelligence Committee (also known as HPSCI, pronounced Hip-see) may have broken congressional rules when it neither webcast its proceedings nor provided appropriate notice. At its January 28th meeting, HPSCI should have debated and adopted rules for its operation, its oversight plans for the next two years, and more. The Intelligence Committee often keeps the the public in the dark, but still has an obligation to inform the public.

VIDEO

House of Representatives Rule 11(e)(5)(a) requires:

“to the maximum extent practicable, each committee shall…
(A) 
provide audio of video coverage of each hearing or meeting for the transaction of business in a manner that allows the public to easily listen to and view the proceedings; and
(B) maintain the recordings of such coverage in a manner that is 
easily accessible to the public.”

And yet:

  • The committee’s webpage for the January 28th meeting does not contain a link to video of the proceedings. I could not find one on the committee’s webpage.
  • The congressional video repository maintained by the Library of Congress does not contain a video of the January 28th proceedings. The most recent video for HPSCI is from September of 2014.

There is reason to believe business was transacted, as new rules for the committee were posted on the committee’s webpage. However, there still is not a record of any business being conducted on the committee’s “business meetings” webpage.

The Committee could argue that it’s not “practical” to webcast its hearing, but considering everyone else does it and the House provides free cameras when requested, it’s a very weak argument.

MEETING NOTICE

Nowadays, committees provide notice of upcoming meetings at the congressional website docs.house.gov. A review of meeting notices for the week of January 28th, however, indicates there was no posting for HPSCI.

The Committee likely did provide notice of the hearing on its webpage, although there is no way to know when it was posted. However, that likely is insufficient. House Rules 11(g)(3)(C) require “an announcement made under this subparagraph [by the committee chair concerning meetings and hearings] shall be published promptly in the Daily Digest and made publicly available in electronic form.”

Under the Electronic Posting standards, promulgated by the Committee on House Administration, all committees must post documents, including public notices, on a central website… which is docs.house.gov.

WHY THIS MATTERS

Of all the congressional committees, the House Intelligence Committee is the most secretive — even more so than the Rules Committee, which governs how the House itself works. And yet because of the nature of HPSCI’s work, it’s important that it be as open as possible so the public can have confidence in the work it does. That confidence must be earned starting on day one when the committee establishes the rules under which it operates.

A coalition of organizations from across the political spectrum released recommendations on how HPSCI could be more open while still meeting its mandate. Those recommendation (letterwhite paper), were they to be put into effect, would have been voted on that first day. The Committee needs a do-over.

NB: I have not asked the committee for comment, but I’m sure they’d be happy to hear from you.

— Written by Daniel Schuman