House Democrats sent a letter to the inspector general at the Office of Personnel and Management today asking for clarification and answers about a new White House policy to not respond to their oversight requests unless the queries come through House committee or subcommittee chairs.
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According to Democratic Reps. Kathleen Rice of New York and Derek Kilmer of Washington, who penned today's letter, a senior official from the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM) called Rice's office in May to inform her and Kilmer that a letter they wrote asking about the federal government's guidelines for hiring new cybersecurity experts would not be answered unless a chair or subcommittee chair joined the inquiry.
All committees and subcommittees in the House as well as the Senate are run by Republicans, as they hold the majority in both chambers.
Two sources have confirmed to ABC News that the White House counsel’s office instructed legislative affairs departments to follow a new protocol to ignore requests for information from Democrats unless a Republican had signed on as well.
However, the OPM wrote in a statement to ABC News saying that the office planned to respond to letters from individual members on a "case-by-case" basis.
"It represents a practice followed for many years, regardless of which party is in the majority," a spokesperson from the office said in an email. The spokesperson said the office plans to respond to Democrat's letter about the policy, but did not make clear if the office would provide the information sought in the initial request.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and several other top Democrats on the Hill say by and large oversight letters from members of their party have been ignored. Pelosi has argued that to her, it seems like a policy shift. In total, House Democrats say about 275 of their inquiries since the Jan. 20 inauguration have gone unanswered.
“The White House’s attempted gag order is the latest and most egregious attempt by the president to hide the truth from the American people," Pelosi said in a statement. "From firing FBI Director James Comey in an effort to quash the Bureau’s investigation into Trump-Russia ties to refusing to release his tax returns, President Trump continues to wage an unprecedented campaign of dishonesty and secrecy."
The House minority leader continued, “With this order, President Trump is making his disregard for transparency and his lack of respect for Congress’s oversight role crystal clear. Since day one, the administration has refused to respond to hundreds of requests from Democrats on a range of issues critical to the health and security of the American people.”
Kilmer told ABC News in an interview that such a directive to not engage with members of a political party really "flies in the face of government by the people and for the people."
"What is shocking here is that the Trump administration is making even a nonpartisan request for information and oversight partisan. I think that is really a new low for American democracy," he said.
Rice was insistent that her and Kilmer's original letter was apolitical and aimed only to get information about whether the House could help facilitate any federal efforts to recruit and retain top cybersecurity talent.
The New York congresswoman said she hopes the White House will reconsider its policy on House inquiries.
"It is completely undemocratic," she said in an interview with ABC News. "This is a political move to stymie the proper role of Congress, which is oversight over agencies."
She said she is talking about the issue with her Republican colleagues and she disputes any notion that the Democrats' inquiries are all fishing expeditions designed to sink Trump.
"The Constitution created the House of Representatives as part of a co-equal branch of government, made up of directly elected representatives of the people," says the letter that she and Kilmer today sent to the inspector general. "Every representative, regardless of political party, has a responsibility to serve his or her constituents, just as the administration has the responsibility to serve every American, regardless of who they voted for."