Overview of Committee Investigative Work
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I)
Investigations and Oversight (I&O) Update
At the start of the 116th Congress, when he took over the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Chair DeFazio hired Investigations & Oversight staff and created a Whistleblower web-page to help enhance the Committee’s oversight activities. Oversight is conducted throughout the Committee and by all of the Subcommittees, and below are a few examples of the oversight activities the Committee has been addressing since the beginning of this year.
Boeing 737 MAX: Chair DeFazio has sent more than one dozen oversight related letters to Boeing, Collins Aerospace, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and several airlines. The Committee has received hundreds of thousands of pages of relevant records that staff are continuing to review. Staff have spoken with current and former Boeing, FAA and Collins Aerospace officials, as well as aviation, safety, software, human factors experts and others. The Committee’s requests also helped to initiate two separate Department of Transportation Inspector General audits focused on the 737 MAX and international pilot training standards. The Committee also requested the creation of an independent third-party technical advisory board (TAB) at the FAA that will help ensure the decision to unground the MAX is based on a rigorous, thorough and valid assessment of all available information. T&I’s Subcommittee on Aviation has held three hearings on the 737 MAX and the Full Committee is scheduled to hear from Boeing’s senior executives at a hearing on the MAX on October 30, 2019.
Old Post Office Building Lease and Trump International Hotel: Chair DeFazio has been investigating potential conflicts of interest related to the Old Post Office building lease to the Trump International Hotel, and possible violations of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses for the past three years, which began when he was Ranking Member of the Committee. In January 2019, one of the first actions he took as Chair of T&I was to write to the General Services Administration (GSA) to request records related to this lease. The Committee began receiving documents soon after, but GSA has recently stated their refusal to provide legal memos and financial documents to the Committee. Chair DeFazio raised these issues at a hearing with GSA on the Old Post Office Building in September and the Committee has followed up since then requesting these records and requesting GSA conduct an audit of the Old Post Office lease to the Trump International Hotel. In October, Chair DeFazio wrote to GSA letting them know that if the Committee didn’t receive these records he would issue a subpoena.
FBI Building Project. In coordination with the House Oversight Committee, Chair DeFazio wrote to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Justice (DOJ) and GSA in March requesting documents related to the FBI’s abrupt decision not to vacate their current headquarters location as originally planned but to raze and rebuild the FBI Headquarters building, which is located across the street from the Trump International Hotel. The Committee continues to receive records as part of this request on a rolling basis, received a briefing from the FBI, and staff conducted a Transcribed Interview of an FBI official. As a result of a request from Chair DeFazio and Oversight Committee Chair Cummings, the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has launched an audit into the decision regarding the FBI Headquarters building’s location.
Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) by Rail. President Trump issued an Executive Order on April 10, 2019, calling for LNG to be moved throughout the U.S. in rail tank cars within 13 months and, in June, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) moved ahead with a plan to authorize six trains, of 100 or more rail tank cars, to move LNG for export through densely populated areas. In response, the House approved an amendment offered by Chair DeFazio to the transportation appropriations bill that would prohibit the Secretary of Transportation from finalizing a rulemaking and issuing a special permit to allow the transportation of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) by rail tank car. In September Chair DeFazio also introduced legislation (H.R. 4306) requiring a comprehensive review into the transport of liquified natural gas (LNG) by rail tank car within the United States.
Railroad Crossing Geolocation Data. In September 2019, Chair DeFazio wrote to 12 tech companies, including Google, Apple and MapQuest, that had not responded to a 2016 recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) asking them to include railroad crossing data in their services and applications in order to improve safety and reduce the number of casualties at railroad crossing intersections. There have been more than 4,336 collisions at grade crossings resulting in more than 1,663 injuries and at least 541 deaths since the NTSB first made their recommendation. The T&I Committee is in the process of reviewing responses from these companies to determine why they have not responded to the NTSB and to evaluate next steps to help improve safety at these railroad crossing intersections.
Capital Investment Grants (CIG). Chairman DeFazio sent a bipartisan letter to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and dozens of transit agencies in March 2019 seeking “data that will allow us to conduct a quantitative analysis of the CIG program and its operations under the FAST Act.” In July, staff issued a report that transit projects were being slowed down and the costs to transit agency have increased under the Trump Administration.
INFRA Grants program. In response to a request from Chair DeFazio, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in July which found evaluating the Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure and Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program. The report found the program lacked consistency and transparency in evaluating grant applications. Chair DeFazio followed up with a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao requesting records related to updated policies and procedures the DOE put into place in April 2019 regarding the administration of discretionary grants.
Trump Administration Implementation of the Clean Water Act. In September, the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on the Trump administration’s priorities and policy initiatives under the Clean Water Act. At this hearing, Chair DeFazio challenged the Trump administration’s representative to justify proposed Clean Water Act changes and criticized the agency for moving forward on proposals to radically change its implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act without a full understanding of the consequences of these changes. At that same hearing, DeFazio questioned the EPW about the 2008 Kingston coal-ash spill and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) handling of the aftermath. The Subcommittee is planning to hold a hearing in early 2020 to do additional oversight of TVA and its plans to clean up its coal ash ponds.
Oversight of the Pebble Mine Project and the Clean Water Act Permitting Process. On October 23, 2019, the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment will hold a hearing on issues related to the Pebble Mine projects, including the potential impacts of the mining project, and the Clean Water Act regulatory process related to potential approval of the mining operations.