House lawmakers warn Pentagon against choking off information flow

May 23, 2019 GMT

The leaders of the House Armed Services Committee are hitting back at a memo from acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan that they say will restrict the information lawmakers receive from the Pentagon on military operations.

Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington state Democrat, and Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the panel’s ranking Republican, said in a joint statement late Wednesday that the new policy “would dramatically limit Congress’ ability to execute our constitutional prerogative.”

The internal memo, first obtained by The Washington Post, details the criteria for when Pentagon officials can provide information on operational plans and orders to congressional offices and committees.


In response to the memo, the House lawmakers said that the Pentagon “misunderstands the role and prerogatives of its committees of jurisdiction” and is “overstepping its authority by presuming to determine what warrants legislative oversight.”

The memo reportedly sets new information-sharing guidelines, including requiring Defense Department civilian and military personnel to judge whether the congressional request demonstrates “a relationship to the legislative function.’” It also encourages Pentagon officials to submit a summary of the request from a congressional office rather than provide the plan itself.

A similar fight is brewing at the Treasury Department, which has so far refused House Democrats’ requests for President Trump’s income tax records because the requests are not tied to a “legislative function.”

Mr. Smith and Mr. Thornberry on Wednesday claimed the policy “accuses Congress of being a security risk for classified information, which is both inexcusable and inaccurate.”

The members said they plan to address their concerns about the new policy in their defense authorization bill draft, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks. The Senate Armed Services Committee released its proposed defense budget on Thursday and did not explicitly include an amendment that addresses Mr. Shanahan’s policy.