U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) might be one of the few members of Congress holding the executive branch accountable.
On June 9, the Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker heralded the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) for beginning the preparations for ceding oversight of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions on June 9, the Obama administration executively condoned, Culberson reminds of the true way congress functions.
“Today’s announcement marks an important milestone in the U.S. government’s 18-year effort to privatize the Internet’s domain name system,” Pritzker said.
But no so fast, replied Culberson, House Commerce, Sciences, and Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman. In a letter to Pritzker, Culberson reminded the Secretary that “Section 539 of the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus prohibits funds provided in the Act from being used to relinquish the NTIA’s responsibility for the authoritative root zone file and the IANA functions, and I will ensure this section is fully enforced. As we have previously discussed, I continue to oppose the use of any funds to plan for, prepare for, work on [the] transition [of] the Internet Domain Name System functions.”
Culberson has declared war with the Department of Commerce over this issue.
Despite the defunding, NTIA has already signed off on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) transition proposal. The assessment explicitly states “NTIA, along with other U.S. Government agencies, has reviewed the plan. As documented in this report, the IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal meets the criteria articulated…” The assessment goes on to then lays out an eight section plan for transferring oversight of Internet governance — a plan the agency lacks authorization to complete.
Which is the problem. The 2016 Omnibus bill defunded the Internet transition, disallowing its evolution; however, the Commerce Department is still preparing to hand internet domain functions to ICANN.
That Culberson has taken this opportunity to remind Pritzker it is certainly illegal by even preparing a transition without funded approval was bold in itself. As Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning noted in a statement praising Culberson’s letter, “it is not only illegal to violate a federal statute, it is also illegal to plan to or prepare to violate a federal statute.”
That is because 18 U.S. Code 371 prohibits persons from “conspire[ing] either to commit any offense against the United States… [or] do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy…” By planning the illegal transition, Pritzker and company are breaking the law.
But thanks to Culberson, who stood up to the Secretary of Commerce, he has sounded the alarm that Congress’ Article I power of the purse is being circumvented. The war with the Commerce Department’s illegal Internet giveaway may have just started, with the NTIA firing the first shot, but Culberson may be the one who prevails in the end.
Manning praised Culberson’s actions writing, “Chairman Culberson’s leadership in protecting the Internet has been instrumental in stopping the transition to date, and his letter to Secretary Pritzker sends a clear message that he’s not backing down now. Culberson is defending the constitutional power of the purse from the Obama administration’s illegal Internet giveaway. Culberson is standing against a rogue agency that thinks it can do whatever it wants.”
And it’s about time somebody in Congress said no to Obama.