As The Washington Post reported last weekend, Congress once had the brilliant idea that it wanted to be informed about things. This was certainly better than the alternative, but the way Congress insisted that this happen was by requiring agencies of all shapes and sizes to prepare and shovel great piles of reports onto the legislative body.
It is amazing, all the things on which Congress is eagerly expecting reports. Not just news of the veterans of the Spanish-American War, who have all been dead for years now. Not just the Panama Canal Commission (that could be legit!) or the Soviet Union (just because it disbanded doesn’t mean Congress can’t get an annual report about it). Here are just a few of the 4,291 or so expected reports:
• A report by the Government Accountability Office on the “failure of any department or establishment to supply requested books, documents, and papers or records.”
• A list of all reports issued by GAO during each calendar month and a cumulative list of the preceding 12 months. (Does this include the report on the reports, or is that report separate?)
• Some sort of report from the “Beauty Shop of the House of Representatives.”
• An annual certification that no person or persons with direct or indirect responsibility for administering the Executive Office of the President’s Drug Free Workplace Plan are themselves subject to a program of individual random drug testing. (Does Congress really need to hear about this?)
• A certification that “a shrimp-harvesting nation has adopted a regulatory program governing the incidental taking of certain sea turtles.”
• A report on “the potential threats facing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the first decade of the next millennium” (which is now A.D. 3000).
• An annual report on “all pertinent public information relating to minerals in Alaska gathered by federal agencies.”
• In the area of national security, “A written explanation of the reasons for such the determination that the applications of subsection (a), (b) and (d) would have a substantial adverse impact on the protection of homeland security.”
“HOO BOY,” Sen. Mitch McConnell says, rubbing his hands together. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to hear whether the applications of subsection (a), (b) and (d) would have a substantial adverse impact on the protection of homeland security, should the president determine that …” (Mr. McConnell begins to twitch uncontrollably, and the other members hasten to remove him from the premises lest the attending physician be called in, since the Office of Attending Physician has to write an annual report to Congress, too.)
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog for The Washington Post.