Chaffetz: Why oversight matters
After a review of some 100,000 documents in the Fast and Furious probe, the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Justice this week confirmed what we on the House Oversight Committee have long suspected.
A disturbing lack of oversight and leadership within the DOJ and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms contributed to the reckless decision of the U.S. government to sell 2,000-plus weapons to Mexican drug cartels.
These decisions to compromise public safety were, as we feared, the result of a multi-agency failure that involved senior executives at ATF and DOJ.
As the report indicated, Operation Fast and Furious reflects a colossal failure of oversight, management, leadership and accountability within the DOJ.
Even with the attorney general continuing to shield from public scrutiny more than half of the relevant documents in the investigation and DOJ's successful attempts to redact information from the report, the findings still offered damning conclusions about this program.
As the Fast and Furious investigation demonstrates, congressional oversight of executive branch operations is vital to good government. Even with the extensive publicity this investigation has received, Attorney General Eric Holder refused to discipline most of those involved in the planning and execution of it.
What would have happened had there been no outside investigations? Would these failures of management have been swept under the proverbial rug?
Allowing mistakes of this magnitude to be covered up and forgotten would send a dangerous message to federal agencies.
The congressional and OIG investigations are important and necessary tools. If we don't hold government accountable for poor management and poor leadership, those problems will only multiply.
Congress has a constitutional obligation to ensure that the vast power of government bureaucrats and agencies is checked.
Operation Fast and Furious represented an egregious abuse of government power and authority. But even more disturbing was the effort by the Obama Justice Department to cover up wrongdoing to avoid accountability.
Of the known universe of 140,000 documents relevant to Fast and Furious, the Justice Department provided fewer than 8,000 to Congress. More disturbing, however, is the inappropriate use of executive privilege to shield the agency from the consequences of having lied to Congress.
Many of the documents withheld from the committee and protected by the president pertained to the DOJ's internal deliberations about a Feb. 4 letter which later proved false.
Although the OIG report sheds additional light on this operation, we are not finished. Many troubling questions remain. We need to understand why the letter with false information was sent to Congress and why it took 10 months for DOJ to rescind that letter. It is unclear who else was involved in that cover-up.
If this administration thinks they've heard the last about Fast and Furious, they're wrong. As my colleague, Rep. Trey Gowdy, has asked, what percentage of the truth do we want?
Given the choice to serve on any committee on Capitol Hill, I sought Oversight and Government Reform because I believe holding government accountable is not optional. I campaigned on the issue. I strongly believe that Americans deserve to know what their tax dollars are paying for regardless of which party is in power.
More importantly, powerful agencies and bureaucrats need to know their power is not unlimited. It must be checked. And I'm determined that our committee will continue to provide that check.
Fast and Furious was one operation in one federal agency, but it is symptomatic of one of the great weaknesses of large central governments. Without adequate oversight and reform, Americans will never get the answers they demand or the results they deserve.
Jason Chaffetz represents the 3rd District of Utah in the U.S. House.
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