MARCH 28, 2011
The official appointed by the Obama Administration to promote transparency at the Department of Homeland Security has long warned that the agency violates public records laws when data is considered “politically sensitive” by her bosses.The damaging information has come to light thanks to a news outlet’s relentless effort to expose a scandal involving how the administration blocks the release of public records at the agency. A separate story last week revealed that a senior career employee suffered retaliation for blowing the whistle on political appointees who illegally interfered with public records requests at the Department of Homeland Security. The official (Catherine Papoi) worked as a deputy unit chief in charge of handling public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).Papoi told the Homeland Security Inspector General that hundreds of public records requests had been illegally sidetracked to Obama advisers because the documents were considered politically sensitive. The administration officials delayed release and demanded information about the watchdog groups, journalists and others requesting the materials. If a member of congress requested documents, Homeland Security employees were ordered to specify if it was a Republican or Democrat who put in the order. Papoi, a veteran Homeland Security lawyer, got demoted for denouncing the wrongdoing.It turns out that the problem is so pervasive that even political appointees have long expressed concern about the process, which contradicts President Obama’s repeated promise to run the most transparent administration in history. Internal electronic mail obtained by the news group that broke the story reveals that an official appointed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano complained about the burdensome vetting process that certain records underwent.Appointed by Napolitano to promote the transparency of Homeland Security operations, Mary Ellen Callahan complained that the highly unusual political “meddling” was “crazy” and deserved to be investigated. In fact, Callahan wrote in an email that she wished someone outside the administration would request public records on the so-called political reviews that delayed the release of select files.We’ll hear more from Callahan this week when she appears before a congressional committee that investigates government fraud, waste and abuse. Callahan, who is Homeland Security’s chief FOIA officer, is scheduled to testify on Thursday and her sworn statement will carry a lot of weight because she herself is an Obama political appointee who acknowledges that the White House interferes with public records requests.
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