Competitive Enterprise Institute | 1899 L ST NW Floor 12, Washington, DC 20036 | Phone: 202-331-1010 | Fax: 202-331-0640
Recently, the Obama administration asserted a new policy of allowing the federal government to lie outright to citizens about the existence of records sought under the Freedom of Information Act.
"Fundamental transformation" apparently means that, just as now the taxpayers really work for the state, when freedoms are to be protected these are the state's freedoms.
Ho-hum. Just another day in the Most-Transparent-Administration-in-History, which whopper may have been the inspiration for this policy. It wasn't enough that the law already allows them to not confirm or deny the existence of certain, particularly sensitive records.
For whatever reason, more was needed by a group for whom stealth and whoppers appear necessary to govern. Most disturbing, this is business-as-usual of sorts for Team Obama.
This latest, remarkable move is part of a pattern recognized by those of us who have pursued FOIA requests from this administration. Stonewalling and deception are routine practice, even after we are forced to litigate, or when Congress steps in to demand the same records under specific authority other than FOIA.
Things began on the wrong foot in 2009 when "energy and environment czar" Carol Browner ordered industry attendees in a meeting to "put nothing in writing, ever."
That's a problem, given the Presidential Records Act, a law ensuring that records are maintained even when offices exempted from FOIA are involved. This telegraphed a way of life for Team Obama.
My experiences with FOIA and the Obama administration include:
• Using a "handle" when discussing controversial senior officials likely to be the subject of record requests, frustrating parties seeking to document that official's involvement in particular matters. For example, senior staff did not write the name of former chief executive officer of Al Gore's pressure group turned assistant secretary of energy for the now-disgraced "renewable energy" effort. Cathy Zoi was referred to in emails as "EE-1".
• Using industry trade groups as "cutouts" to deal with left-wing activists certain to draw scrutiny, for example the Soros-backed Center for American Progress serving as the administration's external policy arm. For example, the same Department of Energy used the rent-seeking windmill industry trade association, AWEA, to coordinate with CAP.
These first two examples would be recognized by intelligence operatives as "tradecraft." Why are policy officials behaving like covert agents?
• Refusing to produce records created or received by government officials in their official capacity and on official time, claiming these aren't "agency records" but really the United Nations' property.
• This is an extensive pattern caught by a Department of Commerce inspector general inquiry after the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration used the same untrue statement to stonewall four parties, including me, seeking records involving the production of controversial "IPCC" reports on global warming to support the Kyoto agenda.
• Creating offline, nongovernmental electronic fora for discussing production of those reports going forward. We learned that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy was leading a governmentwide effort to enable the United Nations in pulling this off, expressly to frustrate the taxpayer's ability to obtain these records under FOIA.
This latter stunt was apparently a very big deal when it involved the Bush administration and some guy named Abramoff. Now, well, it's different.
Other current stonewalls include NASA refusing to give us records it admits it possesses and has acknowledged are "agency records," involving a third-party, activist website being run out of NASA on taxpayer time. We are in court on this.
And, of course, there is NASA's refusal to produce the ethics applications of uber-activist, James Hansen, a government astronomer whose admitted agenda was being egged on by that same website coincidentally operated out of the office he runs.
Documents we did obtain confirm that, after escalating his media campaign, Hansen has taken more than $1 million in just four years for activities relating to his taxpayer-funded job.
In some cases, according to the people writing the checks, this was expressly for his taxpayer-funded work. That's a problem. NASA has sealed up tight. We are in court on this, too.
But we're not alone, as House Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is also being rebuffed in his request for these records.
The above history involves just a few FOIA requests by me addressing "global warming" and green-jobs schemes. The whole truth is surely worse by an order of magnitude.