"Oversight" is a funny word. It has two meanings, one the opposite of the other. "Oversight" can mean watching over, supervising, or reviewing an action, a policy, or a process. Or it can mean the failure to do so, as in: "I meant to keep an eye on those guys, but I didn't. I guess that was an oversight on my part."
When it comes to monitoring the activities of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and its head, drug czar John Walters, six years of Republican control of the Congress meant the only oversight that was practiced was of the latter variety. That was especially true when it came to looking into charges that Walters and ONDCP were using their drug-fighting mission to unfairly intervene in state and local ballot issues or legislation, or to seek partisan advantage for the Republican Party.
What a difference an election can make. With the opposition Democrats now in control of both houses of Congress, the drug czar's office is joining other large hunks of the Bush administration in coming under tough congressional scrutiny. Today, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), head of the House Oversight and Government Operations Committee, released the following statement charging Walters and ONDCP with coordinating with the White House to schedule events with some 20 vulnerable Republican incumbents in the months leading up to the November 2006 elections:
Politicization of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
At the request of Sara Taylor, the former White House Director of Political Affairs, John Walters, the nation’s drug czar, and his deputies traveled to 20 events with vulnerable Republican members of Congress in the months prior to the 2006 elections. The trips were paid for by federal taxpayers and several were combined with the announcement of federal grants or actions that benefited the districts of the Republican members.
A November 20, 2006, memo from Ms. Taylor summarizes the travel Director Walters took at her request. An agency e-mail sent the following day describes how Karl Rove commended the historically nonpartisan Office of National Drug Control Policy and three cabinet departments – Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture – for “going above and beyond the call of duty” in making “surrogate appearances” at locations the e-mail described as “the god awful places we sent them.” Other documents include an e-mail from the Interior Department to Ms. Taylor’s predecessor stating: “these folks need to be reminded who they work for and how their geographical travel can benefit this President.”
Chairman Waxman wrote to Ms. Taylor to request her attendance at a Committee deposition on or before July 24 and her possible appearance at a Committee hearing on July 30. He also wrote to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, the Republican National Committee, Director Walters, and the Secretaries of the Departments of Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture requesting relevant documents.
There's a complete set of links to the documents mentioned at the House Oversight and Government Operations Committee web site linked to in the title of the Waxman release. It makes some interesting--and damning--reading. Waxman looks like he will schedule some hearings on this soon. Gosh, it sure is fun when we have someone on the oversight committee who actually practices the first definition of the word!