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Ms. KLEEMAN. We believe this, but the Survey's management office said that while the Executive Committee members are under the Advisory Committee Act, the task force members are not.
The CHAIRMAN. I am struck with some curiosity as to why prominent business people would not want the protection of some rather well-defined regulations that create a presumption that they are not entering upon a position where a possible conflict would exist. I am wondering whether they are aware that they are proceeding in this very unusual way without such protection. As you describe it to me, there does not seem to be any clearly defined intent on anyone's part to even advise task force members that they might at some stage be found to be members of a covered committee or activity.
Ms. KLEEMAN. We really do not know. In our interviews with the agencies, they have told us various things, ranging from, “Yes, we have talked to the people about possible conflicts of interest” and others saying, "We didn't know we were supposed to.” The opinions of the agency people go in many different directions. We do not have the background papers on how the survey made the determination in the first place that the task forces were not under the Advisory Committee Act and the Executive Committee was. We have asked for the background papers on that, but those are some of the items we haven't received.
The CHAIRMAN. So at this point, before you can proceed further with the information we have asked you to obtain, you are awaiting the determination of the General Counsel's Office in the Department of Justice with respect to coverage by the act?
Mr. WRAY. If I could clarify, questions were raised and submitted to the Justice Department on a request for access. I am not precisely sure. I was not able to find out from my inquiries just what issues Justice or the White House counsel's offices look at in that regard. I cannot specifically confirm that they are looking at the coverage of the Advisory Committee Act, although that would certainly have a bearing on our access.
The CHAIRMAN. What kind of information are you awaiting now that is being held up by this legal quibble that we are describing?
Ms. KLEEMAN. A list of all the participants and their backgrounds and their responsibilities; the legal guidance for establishing the organization; the clearance process; the authority and conformance to the advisory committee provisions for the survey; the task force objectives, work plans, and progress reports; and a description of the role and function of all charts shown in the Management Office's organization chart, based on the organization charts that they gave us at the beginning of our work. We were uncertain of some of the relationships, and those are the questions and the information that we asked for that they said they have referred to the Justice Department.
The CHAIRMAN. The organizational chart that we have is the one that you were just referring to?
Ms. KLEEMAN. Yes.
The CHAIRMAN. Reporting to Mr. Grace, the Chairman, the Executive Committee and the Management Office, we have legal counsel. They define their responsibilities as "Legislative advice,
public relations, congressional affairs, and communications.” Is this the Office that you have been in contact with?
Mr. WRAY. I contacted the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice. I was referred to attorneys there for information on the status of the opinion.
The CHAIRMAN. But have they established a person or an office for this box on their chart called "Legal Counsel”?
Mr. WRAY. Within the Management Office?
Mr. SHORT. Sir, legal counsel attended a meeting that we had with officials from the foundation and the Management Office. So indirectly, yes, we have talked to that individual.
The CHAIRMAN. Could you tell me who that is?
Mr. SHORT. I am not quite sure where his office is. I am assuming he is located at the Management Office, which is on K Street.
The CHAIRMAN. They describe also, on the same level as a matter of fact as legal counsel, a Government Resource Group: OMB, GSA, OPM, and others. Have you had any contact with that group?
Mr. SHORT. We are not clear what that is. It is one of the things we asked for clarification.
The CHAIRMAN. There is also a Field Coordinating Group, William E. Simon, Chairman. That is the only one where a chairman is named on the organization chart, except for the executive committee itself. I assume that is the Bill Simon that we know and love. It says that he will “Assist, advise, and counsel the task forces.” Have you had any contact with Mr. Simon's operations?
Ms. KLEEMAN. We have not. That is one of the offices that we asked about in our inquiry, the role and relationship of that office to the others. We received no answer.
The CHAIRMAN. Since there is no direct connection between the Field Coordinating Group and legal counsel with the task forces, everything goes back to the Executive Committee and the Management Office and then goes to the task forces.
Ms. KLEEMAN. That is the way it appears on the chart. Although we have asked for an explanation of it, they have not provided one.
The CHAIRMAN. I asked the question this morning of who advised who not to give us information, and all we got was the name of the person who delivered the message. We do not want to kill the messenger for bad news, but there is no way to know whether Mr. Simon knows that, in his capacity of assisting, advising, and counseling task forces, his operation has been asked to do this. Maybe if we talked to Mr. Simon we might induce him to advise them to cooperate.
Ms. KLEEMAN. We would be glad to contact him for you, if you would like.
The CHAIRMAN. I would appreciate it if you would do that. I am sure that he is going to be forthcoming and cooperative. He always was when he was here in the Government.
Ms. KLEEMAN. All right. We will do that, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Have any of the survey officials or agency co tacts given you specific reasons for their reluctance to disclose information on a task force operation?
Ms. KLEEMAN. It varied. We talked to the agency people by phone because we were trying to get this information as soon as possible. Their answers ranged from fairly complete discussions on what was going on in their agencies to one agency contact, the Under Secretary or Deputy Secretary of the Interior, who refused us any information.
The CHAIRMAN. Did they give you any reason for that?
Mr. SHORT. They stated concerns about our involvement and the committee's involvement in looking at the President's private sector survey
The CHAIRMAN. The committee's involvement?
The CHAIRMAN. Then have you detected any general reluctance to disclose information to the Congress or this committee?
Ms. KLEEMAN. That was the only instance where there was a direct statement of the committee's involvement. In the other agencies, the agency liaison, the names that they gave us, varied from the Secretary or Deputy Secretary or Under Secretary to just some lower level staff people. So we got all varieties of information. We cannot state across the board. We are preparing a summary of those agency interviews for you.
The CHAIRMAN. What about OPM? Have you been able to get the information from OPM with regard to the study?
Ms. KLEEMAN. We had several interview with the OPM task force when it was first organized. We met with Mr. Pranger and his group in our other role, as providing them information based on past GAO reports. We have worked with many
of the task force people, giving them some information from past GAO reports. We did interview Mr. Nesterczuk, who at that time was the agency liaison, and he told us that the task force had the ability to collect any and all information; they were putting no restrictions on them. In the beginning we received several documents from Mr. Pranger's office in our role as investigators rather than as assistance to the task force. At a certain point, Nr. Pranger did ask us to put our requests in writing rather than a kind of oral discussion that we had had. We did that, and he forwarded those to the Executive Committee office. But we have had many contacts with the personnel task force.
We also did some more in-depth work, as you asked us to look at the personnel task force itself. Tom, do you have information on that?
Mr. SHORT. Yes. We are preparing information that will be summarized in our report.
Ms. KLEEMAN. We have had many contacts with the group.
The CHAIRMAN. Is OPM cooperating with you in gathering this information?
Ms. KLEEMAN. Since they asked us to put it in writing, and Tom says we did not send the letter actually for the information, we have heard nothing from them.
Mr. SHORT. I just want to clarify it. We never wrote a request letter to Mr. Pranger in his role as project manager.
The CHAIRMAN. No, I am referring to what Mr. Devine's people are doing.
Mr. Short. We made a phone call to OPM, as we did to other agency contacts. Again, we talked to Mr. Nesterczuk. For the questions we asked, he responded as well as any of the other agency contacts.
Ms. KLEEMAN. We did not have information on the work plans and the other detailed information that you asked for on the two task forces, the personnel task force and the social security task force. That was tbe information they originally asked us to put in writing, but then we had not followed up on that.
The CHAIRMAN. You indicated that you were called upon to provide assistance to the survey in giving what you had available in the way of existing GAO studies and at least a search paper for finding the kind of studies they might find interesting?
Ms. KLEEMAN. I personally have met with about 17 members of the OPM task force and other agency task forces that are looking at personnel issues. We are always delighted to share our recommendations and our interest in efficiency and economy in Government.
The CHAIRMAN. I have frequently been unhappy with the results in investigations, even some that I have asked for myself, but I cannot remember a time in recent history when anyone truly suggested that they could not share with the GAO any information that came into their possession.
Ms. KLEEMAN. I do not believe I have ever had that experience in my 9 years at GAO. I do not know about others.
The CHAIRMAN. There is one way to get the attention of all the chairmen around this place, and the subcommittee chairman, and that is to refuse to answer a question for GAO. There is something in the nature of our oversight responsibilities that just starts a little tingle here in the back of your neck when somebody does not want to answer what appear to be maybe innocuous but nevertheless relevant questions.
I want to thank you very much for your cooperation with the committee and for your statement and for the information you have been able to provide. I urge you to advise us if you have any difficulty. We are particularly interested in what the legal explanation is of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, for that preliminary ruling they have made over there.
Ms. KLEEMAN. We will continue to followup on the work you have asked us to do and report back to you.
The CHAIRMAN. I guess I am not sufficiently adept at the technical interaction of all of these various acts to judge just how reluctant someone can be. But I would find it very startling if indeed there was legal opinion that indicated that with the tremendous public criticism with this body over the years for our failure to exercise adequate oversight over "the bureaucracy”—and that means a lot of things to a lot of people—that anyone could seriously suggest that, other than criticizing us for being nosey and meddlesome, a committee had no right to look at anything anyone was doing within the Federal Government.
If we were to follow the reasoning of these folks at this point, there is actually no limitation on what kind of people you could
put inside the Government to ask any kind of questions they wanted to, with absolutely, from their point of view, no redress on behalf of the taxpayers to protect the integrity of everything up to and including our national defense. Short of those things that are in the Defense Department, there are many areas where the Government deals with the most sensitive kinds of information.
I became quite concerned when I saw the memorandum about the horror stories. Presumably horror stories will involve individuals or groups of individuals. Given the egregious generalizations that the chairman of the committee made a short time ago, leading to his public apology in Puerto Rico, we would not like to have that sort of thing show up on a list of horror stories characterizing an entire identifiable population of the country in the way in which his offhand remarks made before some group did that. While these are well meaning people, this committee certainly could embarrass a tremendous mumber of people if the kind of information that comes into our control with respect to individuals, when we are examining abuses of programs, makes us very sensitive to the idea that people should not be just wandering around, free to put anything they want in a report, with no criteria given to them in advance with respect to being careful about protecting the rights of privacy of people or groups of people.
It looks to me as if this has been just completely neglected in this endeavor. I hope fervently that it will not result in the embarrassment of either task force members or innocent American citizens. I am very fearful that, aside from something less than a clear understanding of what their mission is, we seem to have no understanding of what their responsibility is, as someone with access to this kind of information.
You could have a field day looking for horror stories over in the Office of Education, for example, that does not quickly occur to people. I was chairman of the Higher Education Committee during the years when we put great pressure on a previous administration to begin collecting student loans. I recall some of the ill-thought illconceived suggestions we had in their anxiety to respond to us about what they would do to people and how they would identify people and so on. They were all trying to do what we asked them to do but did not start out with the idea that Government agencies have to protect the people they are going after in the same way that they protect the interests for which they are going after them. So even in a relatively benign agency like that, it is not very difficult for them to get off on a tangent and stir up a lot of trouble.
When you go over to HHS, it gets even more sticky. In fact, you could find information relatively easily raising questions of the legitimacy of children, the status of marriages, and anything you can imagine, the most private parts of people's lives that are fully disclosed under the law to agencies of that kind and available to anybody who has access to the record. We bend over backwards, and I am sure this President would be the very first to be concerned with any kind of governmental or quasi-governmental activity, that allowed people to get into the private lives of American citizens indirectly, and have big government further invade, even by volunteers, the privacy of the American public.