July 22, 2010

Transparency delayed is transparency denied


For at least a year, the Homeland Security Department detoured hundreds of requests for federal records to senior political advisers for highly unusual scrutiny, probing for information about the requesters and delaying disclosures deemed too politically sensitive, according to nearly 1,000 pages of internal e-mails obtained by The Associated Press.


Career employees were ordered to provide Secretary Janet Napolitano's political staff with information about the people who asked for records — such as where they lived, whether they were private citizens or reporters — and about the organizations where they worked.

While political staffers never appear to explicitly deny requests, their involvement certainly delayed the process:

E-mails obtained by AP do not show political appointees at Homeland Security stopping records from coming out. Instead they point to acute political sensitivities that slowed the process, a probing curiosity about the people and organizations making the request for records, and considerable confusion.

It appears the Obama Administration along with the Department of Homeland Security wanted to be kept informed of any potential "headaches" that could develop from responding to information requests. The irony is that this now revealed policy has resulted in a headache of its own.

Why don't governments realize that this kind of information will always get out? They should have followed the standard FOIA procedure and not made this stupid directive.

Even after the AP called them on this policy, they "modified" it so that political staffers can still review records three days before they're made public but the releases don't need their final approval.

Which is still nonsense. Political staffers have no legitimate need to "monitor" FOIA responses.

Secretary Napolitano should get rid of the entire policy.