AP: Homeland Security probed FOIA requesters, delayed data based on politics
posted at 11:36 am on July 22, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
The Most Transparent Administration Evah has yet another example of doublespeak and opacity uncovered by the Associated Press. A lengthy investigation shows that the Department of Homeland Security investigated people making Freedom of Information Act requests for their politics, and delaying legally mandated disclosures based on political considerations. The demands for information included the party affiliation of those making the requests, a policy that came from the top:
For at least a year, the Homeland Security Department detoured 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.
If a member of Congress sought such documents, employees were told to specify Democrat or Republican.
I’ll take a wild guess that the process was not expedited for requests coming from Republicans.
This policy stopped after DHS became aware that the AP was pursuing the story, but it’s appalling nonetheless. One career employee got reprimanded simply for referring a reporter to a public Coast Guard website for open-source information without first checking with the political politburo working for Napolitano. The policy demanded approval before release from the political appointees, who apparently often exercised a “pocket veto” on the requests by simply never responding. The materials that required such approval included anything relating to a White House policy priority, “controversial or sensitive” topics — and anything requested by lawmakers, journalists, activists, and watchdog groups.
Who and what did that leave? I’d say the DHS website for people completely disinterested in it. It looks like anything of interest requested by people who had an interest generated a lot of political interest from Napolitano’s inner circle.
The FOIA law is not an excuse to conduct investigations into active citizens expecting and deserving transparency in government. It is certainly not a dodge for political appointees to keep embarrassing data to themselves so as not to hurt their bosses. Even worse, Napolitano apparently kept Congress from getting information it needs to conduct oversight and provide a check and balance to DHS power based on the political affiliation of those asking for the data. That should be a firing offense, and it should include everyone in Napolitano’s star chamber as well as Napolitano herself.
And if this Congress won’t defend its prerogatives, then we had better elect a Congress in the midterms who will.