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Campus Notebook: Defense of Marriage Act Dispute Stirs Panel

House General Counsel Kerry Kircher was not one of the main witnesses at Tuesdays hearing for the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, but he became the subject of scrutiny by Democrats over the chambers defense of the law that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Subcommittee ranking member Mike Honda (D-Calif.) pushed Kircher, whose budget the panel oversees, to clarify how much money he expects his team and outside counsel to spend defending the Defense of Marriage Act and what parameters were in place to determine the cases in which they could and could not intervene.

We are struggling to pay for security measures, maintain staffs. Office budgets have been slashed, but somehow we seem to find funds to defend unconstitutional laws, Honda said of the law that garnered 342 yea votes when it passed the House in 1996.

Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) shot back, saying that in light of the Department of Justices announcement that it would no longer defend the law in court, it was the Houses obligation to uphold what he called the law of the land.

DOJ cant cherry-pick ... [what] to defend and not defend, LaTourette said, adding that its costing the House money to take up the laws defense because of the departments political agenda.

DOJ is in bed with the plaintiffs, he said.

The debate over paying to defend the law has been going on since Republican leaders sanctioned a contract a year ago with outside firm Bancroft PLLC to defend the law, with assistance from
Kirchers in-house team.

The original $500,000 contract was tripled last September to authorize up to $1.5 million. So far, $742,000 has been transferred into the account of the general counsel.

The money doesnt come through appropriations but via a general House account maintained by the chambers Chief Administrative Officer.

Over the past six months, in an effort to deal with cost issues, we brought more DOMA work back into my office to reduce the amount we expend on outside counsel, Kircher told lawmakers at Tuesdays hearing.

He said there are currently 12 cases before courts that relate to DOMA in which his staff and Bancrofts could intervene. Of those 12, one case is complete, two were filed within the past few months but the House attorneys have not yet stepped in, and nine cases are pending.

There is no way to tell, Kircher said, how much money would be needed in the months ahead.

The cap [for spending on this] right now is only $750,000, Kircher said in response to a question from Rep. David Price (D-N.C.). Its hard to know how much we will ultimately spend because its hard to know how this litigation ultimately plays out. ... The name of the game here is to get some case before the Supreme Court and get a resolution. ... When that happens, we will be done and stop spending money.

House Gets Clean Audit

The House is back in good financial shape a year after auditors found mismanagement and disengagement in the performance of former Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard.

The 2011 financial audit, released Tuesday under the leadership of Beards successor, Dan Strodel, shows a clean opinion.

This clean opinion is a direct result of ... Strodels ability to restore the Houses good financial standing through the successful implementation of a comprehensive internal controls program and a new financial management system, reads a Dear Colleague letter signed by Reps. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and Robert Brady (D-Pa.), chairman and ranking member of the House Administration Committee.

In fiscal 2011, the CAO contracted the public accounting firm Cotton and Co. to audit House financial statements.

Though the firms report is positive overall, it did find two significant deficiencies in the Houses financial management.

The House is not, according to Cotton and Co., doing consistent record-keeping to ensure correct reporting of expenditures and transactions. Nor has the House implemented a process to ensure that the chambers information technology system is secure against risks.

Still, the firm stresses that it does not consider these deficiencies to be material weaknesses.

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