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Government watchdog says Bush ignored law after 30% of signing statements
Michael Roston
Published: Monday June 18, 2007
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The Government Accountability Office issued a report showing that US government agencies ignored Congressional legislation on 30% of the occasions when President George W. Bush issued a 'presidential signing statement' after signing bills into law. The report was released today by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Conyers slammed Bush's use of signing statements, which he noted were far more frequent than any previous administration.

"The Administration is thumbing its nose at the law," he said. "This study calls for an extensive review of these practices, something the Administration has so far refused to do."

Senator Byrd agreed.

"The White House cannot pick and choose which laws it follows and which it ignores. When a president signs a bill into law, the president signs the entire bill. The Administration cannot be in the business of cherry picking the laws it likes and the laws it doesn't," the President Pro Tempore of the Senate said. "This GAO opinion underscores the fact that the Bush White House is constantly grabbing for more power, seeking to drive the people's branch of government to the sidelines....We must continue to demand accountability and openness from this White House to counter this power grab."

The GAO examined a sample of 19 specific provisions from fiscal year 2006 appropriations acts where Bush took exception with a signing statement. It found the laws passed by Congress were subsequently ignored about 30% of the time.

"Of these 19 provisions, 10 provisions were executed as written, 6 were not, and 3 were not triggered and so there was no agency action to examine," said the report, which was issued as a letter and signed by GAO General Counsel Gary L. Kepplinger.

While the Congress members who released the report passed judgment on the legality of the post-signing statement actions, the GAO did not.

"We did not assess the merits of the Presidentís objections, nor did we examine the constitutionality of the provisions to which the President objected," Kepplinger wrote.

Kepplinger noted that there were four broad categories under which the President objected to a law passed by Congress: the theory of the unitary executive; the Commander in Chief power, national security, foreign relations, or law enforcement; bicameralism and presentment clauses of the Constitution; and miscellaneous categories related to the Recess Appointments Clause and the Fifth Amendment."

The six instances in which the agency ignored the law after the president issued the statement with his signature were broken down by the GAO:

* - The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) did not seek approval from the congressional appropriations committees prior to incurring obligations for administrative expenses beyond the level set by Congress.

* - The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) did not submit a proposal and expenditure plan for housing as directed by Congress because it does not normally produce such plans.

* - The Department of Agriculture did not obtain prior approval for a transfer of funds.

* - The Department of Defense (DOD) did not include as part of the fiscal year 2007 budget submission to Congress separate budget justification documents for the costs of all contingency operations for the Military Personnel, Operation and Maintenance, and Procurement accounts.

* - DOD responded to an inquiry from the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs, House Committee on Appropriations, in 38 days, instead of 21 days as directed.

* - The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) did not relocate its checkpoints in the Tucson sector every 7 days as directed by Congress.

While GAO acknowledged the law had been ignored, it did not say whether the President's signing statement had played a factor in that act of omission.

"Although we found the agencies did not execute the provisions as enacted, we cannot conclude that agency noncompliance was the result of the Presidentís signing statements," Kepplinger wrote.

The GAO's full report to Congress can be downloaded at this link.