In a memo to department and agency heads posted on the White House website, President Barack Obama said that his administration is “committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government” and noted that “[o]penness will strengthen our democracy.” But, as has too often been the case with this administration, the rhetoric hasn’t lived up to reality.
For an administration that was supposed to be the most transparent in history, it certainly does go to great lengths to hide what its doing. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been embroiled in the Climategate scandal, which revolved around former agency administrator Lisa Jackson’s use of private e-mail to conduct government business.
Another example of this pernicious secrecy emerged this week. The Associated Press tried to obtain e-mails from the Labor Department via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In what was a clear attempt to discourage the news agency from obtaining the information, the Labor Department tried to charge the AP more than $1 million (emphasis mine):
Some of President Barack Obama’s political appointees, including the Cabinet secretary for the Health and Human Services Department, are using secret government email accounts they say are necessary to prevent their inboxes from being overwhelmed with unwanted messages, according to a review by The Associated Press.
The scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery: Most U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees’ email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.
The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay just over $1.03 million when the AP asked for email addresses of political appointees there. It said it needed pull 2,236 computer backup tapes from its archives and pay 50 people to pore over old records. Those costs included three weeks to identify tapes and ship them to a vendor, and pay each person $2,500 for nearly a month’s work. But under the department’s own FOIA rules - which it cited in its letter to the AP - it is prohibited from charging news organizations any costs except for photocopies after the first 100 pages. The department said it would take 14 weeks to find the emails if the AP had paid the money.
Fillichio later acknowledged that the $1.03 million bill was a mistake and provided the AP with email addresses for the agency’s Senate-confirmed appointees, including three addresses for Harris, the acting secretary. His secret address was harris.sd(at)dol.gov. His other accounts were one for use with labor employees and the public, and another to send mass emails to the entire Labor Department, outside groups and the public. The Labor Department said it did not object to the AP publishing any of Harris’ email addresses.
A mistake? A MISTAKE?! It’s a mistake to mess up an office lunch order it or forget to pay your credit card payment on time. You don’t just accidentally try to charge a news organization over $1 million for a FOIA request, especially when news agencies are exempt from payment.
Also, the timing is bad for the Obama Administration, when it’s under fire for targeting journalists at the Associated Press and Fox News for simply doing their jobs. Not only is it the opposition of transparency, it’s also another example of the disturbing contempt for the press. Sadly, this has become par for the course for this administration.