WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Natural Resources Committee will consider a motion to issue subpoenas to compel Obama Administration officials to appear before the panel and discuss the controversial decision to retroactively apply 2013 sequestration cuts to 2012 Secure Rural School (SRS) funds that had already been distributed to states and counties.
The motion follows the release of an interim Majority staff report, made public earlier this week, detailing information uncovered during the Committee’s ongoing investigation, and oversight hearing, during which U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Undersecretary Robert Bonnie reiterated that states that have not repaid the funds may have them taken out of this year’s payments.
“The administration chose to apply budget sequestration in a manner that made certain all Secure Rural Schools counties felt the hurt,” stated Thompson. “As we heard during yesterday’s hearing, these actions were taken with questionable legal authority and apparent pressure from the White House to make a political statement at the expense of our rural communities.”
Since the Committee began its investigation, the Obama Administration has failed to fully comply with subpoenas for documents and has yet to fully answer questions regarding how and why this decision was made, what legal authority they had to do so, and how this will impact SRS funds in 2014.
“This is precisely the reason we began this investigation and precisely the reason it will continue until the administration provides us with answers,” Thompson added.
After distributing SRS payments, the USDA Forest Service announced on March 19, 2013, that it would apply sequestration to the SRS program (link). Letters were distributed to states requesting the return of $17.9 million in funds that had already been paid out. For the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania this amount totals $83,049.00 (link).
During the oversight hearing, Thompson, also chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy & Forestry, pressed Undersecretary Bonnie on the inter-department deliberations that led to the decision.
Detailing disclosures that the Obama Administration reversed course on the decision, after initially determining sequestration should not apply to SRS, Thompson reiterated how the administration’s actions have “caused additional economic harm and confusion for counties in Pennsylvania and across the country.”
“The testimony of Undersecretary Bonnie, similar to the documents we’ve received to date from the administration, leaves key questions unanswered,” Thompson stated. “We need answers from the top at USDA and, if necessary, the White House.”
The Committee’s “Business Meeting to Authorize the Issuance of Subpoenas” will take place on today at 9:30 a.m.