Overview of Committee Investigative Work
At the start of the 116th Congress, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR) hired investigative staff and created a whistleblower webpage to enhance the Committee’s oversight activities in order to increase accountability and transparency concerning issues affecting the public within the Committee’s jurisdiction. As part of its oversight activities during the 116th Congress, the Committee has sent more than 50 oversight-related letters to Federal agencies and private companies, in addition to sending requests to multiple Inspectors General to launch investigations regarding issues under the Committee’s jurisdiction. Oversight is conducted throughout the Committee, and by all the Subcommittees. Below are a few examples of the oversight activities the Committee has addressed since the beginning of this Congress.
Boeing 737 MAX: On September 16, 2020, Chair DeFazio and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) released the Committee’s final investigative report on the Boeing 737 MAX. The 238-page report, written by the Committee’s majority staff, contained more than six dozen investigative findings and pointed to repeated and serious failures by both Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) during the design, development, and certification process of the aircraft, which was involved in two deadly crashes within 5 months of each other that killed a total of 346 people, including eight American citizens. As part of the 18-month investigation, the Committee held five public hearings with more than 20 witnesses; wrote nearly two dozen oversight letters; obtained more than 600,000 pages of documents from Boeing, the FAA, and others; received information and insight from former and current employees who contacted the Committee directly through the Committee’s whistleblower link; and interviewed dozens of current and former Boeing and FAA employees.
To access the final report and accompanying records, including transcribed interviews of senior Boeing and FAA officials about the 737 MAX, as well as past statements, hearing videos, and more, click here.
Carnival Cruise Line: In May 2020, in the second month of a global pandemic and after numerous cases of COVID-19 onboard cruise lines, Chair DeFazio and Chair of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) initiated a records request regarding the response of the Carnival Corporation and its nine affiliated cruise lines to the coronavirus outbreak. The Chairs sent letters requesting relevant documents to the Carnival Corporation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Coast Guard. Among other items, Chairs DeFazio and Maloney requested information about decisions the company made regarding the health and safety of its passengers and crew amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including a copy of the company’s fleetwide Outbreak Prevention and Response Plans in effect starting on January 1, 2020. The Committee’s records request was expanded in October 2020, after media reports suggested the Trump administration intervened on the CDC’s ‘No Sail Order.’
Trump Administration Implementation of the Clean Water Act. In September 2019, 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 Environmental Protection Agency about the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston coal-ash spill in 2008 and the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine Clean Water Act protections implemented to protect public health in the aftermath. The Committee also released a 41-page report, “Clean Water Under Attack: The Five Worst Things the Trump Administration is Doing Right Now to Undermine Clean Water.” In May 2020, shortly after the Trump administration published its final rule to roll back bipartisan clean water protections for the Nation’s rivers, streams, and wetlands, jeopardizing the drinking water of more than 117 million American households, Chair DeFazio and Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA) introduced the Clean Water for All Act, which would prohibit the implementation of the Trump administration’s plan, widely known as the Dirty Water Rule.
Oversight of the Pebble Mine Project and the Clean Water Act Permitting Process. In October 2019, the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on issues related to the Pebble Mine project, including the potential impacts of the mining project, and the Clean Water Act regulatory process related to potential approval of the mining operations. Witnesses included Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Partnership. The Committee is now investigating whether Collier may have made misleading statements to Congress when he described details of the proposed open pit mine in Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay.
Old Post Office Building Lease and Trump International Hotel: Chair DeFazio and Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Dina Titus (D-NV) have 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, which began when DeFazio was Ranking Member of the Committee. In July 2017 Ranking Member DeFazio and then Subcommittee Ranking Member Hank Johnson release a Democratic staff report titled “Breach of a Lease: The Tale of the Old Post Office in the Swamp” detailing GSA’s complete failure to administer the Old Post Office lease agreement in accordance with the terms of the lease.
In January 2019, one of the first actions DeFazio took as Chair of the Committee 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 refused 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 2019, and the Committee has followed up since then requesting these records, requesting GSA conduct an audit of the Old Post Office lease to the Trump International Hotel, and finally, issuing a subpoena for documents in October 2019. After the Trump Organization announced it would attempt to sell the Trump International Hotel lease, the Committee held a second hearing with GSA in January 2020.
FBI Building Project. In coordination with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Chair DeFazio wrote to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Justice (DOJ), and GSA requesting documents related to the FBI’s abrupt decision not to vacate its 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 obtained records as part of this request, received a briefing from the FBI, and conducted a transcribed interview of an FBI official. As a result of a request from Chair DeFazio and then-Oversight Committee Chair Cummings, the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General has launched an audit into the decision regarding the location of the FBI Headquarters building.
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. A few months later, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration moved ahead with a plan to authorize unit trains, of 20 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. After the Senate failed to act, Chair DeFazio introduced legislation (H.R. 4306) in September 2019 requiring a comprehensive review of the risks of transport of LNG by rail tank car. He then included similar language as a provision in H.R. 2, the House-passed infrastructure bill.
INFRA Grants program. In response to a request from Chair DeFazio, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure For 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 Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao requesting records related to updated policies and procedures the Department put into place in April 2019 regarding the administration of discretionary grants.