Top Obama Officials Flout Transparency Laws Using Secret Email
JUNE 04, 2013
Extra, extra read all about it! The administration that promised to be the most transparent in history uses covert government accounts to keep electronic mail from becoming public, according to a national news conglomerate that reports “the scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery.”
That certainly doesn’t keep with President Obama’s guarantee of “unprecedented level of openness in government.” Those were his words, quoted by media outlets around the globe, right after taking office. It hasn’t quite materialized. In fact, in many ways the Obama administration has been among the more secretive in history or at least in recent times.
Just a few weeks ago Obama’s pals in the mainstream media blasted him for failing to deliver on his “campaign promise to make his administration the most transparent in history.” One newspaper even quoted a former FBI special agent who’s working to rescind a transparency award given to the president in 2011 by a handful of open-government groups. The administration treats the public like spies and journalists like conspiracists, according to the federal agent.
This week’s story will undoubtedly fuel that fire. It comes from the same major news organization that the Obama Justice Department targeted, secretly obtaining phone records of reporters and editors in an apparent effort to pin down the source of a leak. In the course of a lengthy probe, the media outlet uncovered that top Obama political appointees, including at least one cabinet secretary, are using secret government email accounts.
The public will never know the extent of the scheme because most government agencies have refused to provide email addresses for political appointees sought by the news outlet months ago under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This should be public record, but clearly the administration is hiding something. Adding insult to injury, one federal agency, the Department of Labor (DOL) tried collecting north of $1 million for its list of email addresses! The agency claimed it had to pay 50 people to work three weeks retrieving the records, which include thousands of computer backup tapes.
At least the DOL acknowledged having the files. This excerpt from the story diplomatically explains that it’s illegal for government agencies to have a covert method of communicating. “The secret email accounts complicate an agency’s legal responsibilities to find and turn over emails in response to congressional or internal investigations, civil lawsuits or public records requests because employees assigned to compile such responses would necessarily need to know about the accounts to search them. Secret accounts also drive perceptions that government officials are trying to hide actions or decisions.”
Judicial Watch encounters these sorts of obstacles regularly in its never-ending work exposing government corruption, which goes hand in hand with secrecy and often forces litigation. The Obama administration has kept JW quite busy and in court often. How bad is the problem? A few years ago JW President Tom Fitton told Congress how, under Obama, government agencies have actually created additional hurdles and stonewalled even the most basic FOIA requests. “The Bush administration was tough and tricky, but the Obama administration is tougher and trickier,” Fitton told lawmakers. Fitton testified before the House and Senate during “Sunshine Week,” a national initiative by the news media, nonprofits and other organizations to promote government transparency.
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