Democrats and civil liberties groups are threatening legislation and lawsuits to prevent President Trump from excluding undocumented immigrants from the population counts used to apportion House seats for the next decade.
The president directed the government on Tuesday to provide the states with census numbers that exclude millions of people living in the country illegally — setting up a potential balance of powers fight as well as a constitutional dispute over whether congressional districts should be drawn based on numbers of people, as has been the long-standing practice, or only citizens.
Civil rights groups gave notice in federal court Wednesday that they would fight Trump's effort. The American Civil Liberties Union readied a separate lawsuit. The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced it would convene an emergency hearing next week and may write a bill to thwart the president. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed that Democrats "will vigorously contest the president's unconstitutional and unlawful attempt to impair the census."
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Danielle Brian is executive director of the Project On Government Oversight, a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates corruption, misconduct and conflicts of interest in the federal government. A South Florida native and National FOIA Hall of Fame member, Brian has testified before Congress more than 40 times in the 27 years she's been leading the organization, which goes by the memorable acronym POGO. She returned to the group and took the reins in 1993 after interning there a decade earlier. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's the tweet-length description of your organization?
@POGOBlog is a nonpartisan watchdog that fights to fix the federal government. We investigate corruption, abuse of power and when the government silences whistleblowers. We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.
- House passes bill to speed an end to inspector general vacancies ... ›
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Congress is so annoyed at how slowly presidents have nominated inspectors general that both parties want the reason down on paper.
The House passed a bill by voice vote Wednesday that would require a president to provide a written explanation whenever an inspector general's job has been open for at least 210 days without a nominee. It also would compel the president to estimate when a nomination is coming.
The current roster of vacancies is alarming to advocates for bettering democracy who focus on improved ethics and a commitment to open government. An IG's role is to be the independent watchdog posted inside a department or agency, investigating cases of waste, fraud and abuse and blowing the whistle with regular reports to Congress.
Of the 37 inspector general positions filled by a presidential nominee confirmed by the Senate, 11 are vacant — the job being done in some cases by acting or deputy IGs whose qualifications have not been vetted at confirmation hearings.
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Moulton is a senior policy analyst at the Project on Government Oversight.
In an outright rejection of the basic concept that the federal government makes better decisions when it gets experts' input, President Trump recently issued an executive order instructing all federal agencies to eliminate at least one-third of their advisory committees that aren't required by law. This is sure to do more harm than good. In fact, it may well drive input from outside experts — on everything from public health to cybersecurity, from trade to civil rights — into the shadows, where we don't know who agencies are hearing from, what is being said and where the public doesn't have a voice.
Executive Order 13875 directs agencies to eliminate committees that have achieved their objectives or whose subject matter is obsolete. The order also sets an arbitrary government-wide cap of 350 advisory committees not required by law, which will impede agencies from getting timely advice on policy decisions and other federal actions.