Washington, D.C., October 17, 2011 – The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), run by controversial White House Science Adviser (and former Mitt Romney climate adviser) John Holdren. The FOIA request seeks records involving an apparently co-ordinated effort between OSTP and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to subvert and circumvent U.S. law.
Specifically, CEI’s FOIA request seeks details of the Obama Administration’s involvement in a UN IPCC plan to hide official online correspondence in non-governmental accounts. The express purpose of creating a non-government web-site “cloud” communications system was to avoid national transparency laws, such as the U. S. FOIA. However, with OSTP having taken over the lead U.S. role in the IPCC in 2009, this also implicates the Presidential Records Act of 1978 (PRA).
The new IPCC system sought to shield U. S. government employees working on the Fifth Assessment Report from FOIA requests by hiding their correspondence, even though they are being tasked and paid by the federal government to work on the report. The scandal-plagued IPCC is funded with millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. CEI demonstrates in its FOIA request that the IPCC’s motivation to avoid future FOIA requests was past embarrassment over releases of earlier communications between IPCC officials and participating bureaucrats, appointees and scientists working on the assessment reports.
CEI’s FOIA request notes that this practice was described by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), during oversight of Bush Administration dealings with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, as “creat[ing] non-governmental accounts for official business” and as “using the nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.” The methods employed by OSTP and the IPCC are similar to those involving Abramoff, if with vastly greater potential impact on the United States and its economy.
“The effort to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act has apparently been conducted with direct assistance by the Obama White House,” said Christopher Horner, CEI Senior Fellow. “Shortly after taking office, the Obama administration moved the lead role on IPCC work from the Department of Commerce to OSTP, run by Dr. John Holdren. The plan to create a FOIA-free zone was then implemented.
“This scheme sought to free UN, European Union, and U.S. bureaucrats and political appointees from oversight and the threat of prying taxpayers which accompanies the use of official e-mail channels, for official work of high public interest, performed on official time and using government computers and facilities,” Horner continued. “Running it out of the White House also triggers questions about subverting the Presidential Records Act.”
The similar practice, serving as the forerunner obstruction to transparency for IPCC-related work, was refusing to produce records that are held in federal government computers on the grounds that the information belongs to the IPCC and is therefore not subject to FOIA. This practice and that it is not lawful was affirmed in a report by the Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General earlier this year.
“As negotiations resume next month on a successor agreement to the failed Kyoto Protocol, CEI looks forward to the White House ceasing this unlawful activity and providing prompt access to the requested records so that U. S. taxpayers can know what they and the IPCC are doing behind the scenes,” Horner concluded.