A North Carolina Democrat says a change in House Science Committee rules is keeping members from learning enough about the financial interests of people who testify in hearings.
But after being rebuked by Republicans, Rep. Brad Miller says he might no longer use his time in hearings to try to quiz the witnesses about their finances. Instead, he’ll pose those questions in writing.
Miller tried to press the issue Oct. 4 during a House Science subcommittee hearing on EPA clean-air standards, during which he asked California engineering consultant J. Edward Cichanowicz for financial information related to his testimony.
“It is not accusing a witness of lying to say they have a financial interest,” Miller said later. “But it may create a bias. We’re entitled to know that. The American people are entitled to know that.”
Miller also used the hearing to complain about the lack of information that committee members receive in the revised “Truth in Testimony” disclosure forms that the panel adopted during the current Congress. And he pointed out that Cichanowicz had clients in the energy utility industry.
When Miller questioned him, Cichanowicz said the utility industry provides “probably 75 percent” of his income.
“Do you not think the American people and the members of this committee ought to know that in evaluating your testimony?” Miller asked.
“It is evident, isn’t it,” Cichanowicz said. “I mean, in my resume …”
“Well, we had to ask about it,” Miller said. “It was not available in the regular course of things. It is something that I have had to use my time to ask about today.”
Cichanowicz’s source of income wasn’t addressed in the disclosure form he had supplied to the committee, which asked whether he was testifying on behalf of anybody else or had received any government contracts. He answered “no” to both.
Republicans on the panel objected to Miller’s line of questioning.
“Let me just note that personal attack on our witness was obnoxious and not reflective of higher standards that I have had here and you have always had, to my colleague from North Carolina,” said Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). He added, “The fact is, every witness we ever have has some contact with the people that they are expert with.”
Rohrabacher said that if representatives want to challenge witnesses, they should do so based on their arguments, rather than “trying to discredit them and dismiss them and perhaps smear them as people who lack integrity.”
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) pointed to the information available in the witness biographies, which are part of the record.
“This was an astounding line of attack on this panel of witnesses,” Harris said of Miller’s questions. “Every expert in the field has financial paths back somewhere.”
But Miller said committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-Texas) told him he could use his time during hearings to pose those types of inquiries. That assurance came during an organizational meeting in February after Miller expressed concern about the changes to the witness disclosure form.
The committee rules were changed during the current Congress to apply disclosure requirements only to nongovernmental witnesses and to narrow the disclosure to issues such as the amount and source of federal grants and contracts that witnesses received during the previous two fiscal years. The change mirrors the disclosure language required by the House.
During the past Congress, the committee required all witnesses to disclose “any financial interests which are relevant to the subject of his or her testimony,” including research grants, stock options, government contracts and compensation from relevant entities.
In February, Hall said the change was meant to make the committee’s rules consistent with House rules and ease witnesses’ privacy concerns because the forms would now be posted online. Previously, only the chairman and ranking member had access to the forms, Hall said.
Hall said at the February meeting that the committee planned to create a policy to ask witnesses to voluntarily disclose additional financial conflicts of interests.
But Miller said during a hearing Thursday that he’s changing his tactics in response to the Republicans’ complaints.
“I may use my five minutes in the future to ask those questions again, but today I will submit questions to these witnesses about their financial interests so that they will be a part of the record,” Miller said. “And I plan to submit these questions to all witnesses that appear before our subcommittee moving forward.”
The Gazette now offers Facebook Comments on its stories. You must be logged into your Facebook account to add comments. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal page, uncheck the box below the comment. Comments deemed offensive by the moderators will be removed, and commenters who persist may be banned from commenting on the site.