Transparency

More Telling Examples from Our 'Most Transparent Administration Ever'

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"What records? We don't even have computers in this office. Look at the empty desks!"
Credit: fczuardi / photo on flickr

This week we discover that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has deleted e-mails sought by members of Congress investigating the horrible, broken launch of Obamacare's federal exchange. Here's how MSNBC describes the situation (and you'll soon see why I chose them to quote from):

The Department of Health and Human Services planned on Thursday to alert Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration, which is charged with enforcing federal record keeping laws, about the problem, according to a copy of a letter being sent to Archives.

There is no evidence that Marilyn Tavenner, an Obama appointee who leads the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, intentionally hid information or deleted records; rather, the gaps appear to be the result of sloppy record keeping. But Republicans have attempted to turn missing emails into a political scandal before, as they did with Lois Lerner, a former IRS official at the center of a separate controversy over alleged targeting of conservative nonprofit groups.

My teleprompter is telling me to wait for the laughter to subside. The defense is that Tavenner's office receives up to 12,000 e-mails per month and has to regularly delete her e-mails in order to stay under Microsoft Exchange's email limit. No, really. So she forwards e-mails for retention and then deletes them. Except sometimes she didn't forward them. It's not that government officials are deliberately trying to destroy records. It's just a helpful side effect of their general incompetence.

They expect to recover "most but not all" of the e-mails.

The latest gap in record-keeping and transparency has prompted Jillian Kay Melchior at the National Review to detail the publication's many problems trying to collect data about state-level health exchanges. I suppose it's not entirely fair to lay these at the feet of the Obama administration, but keep in mind it's his pet program their behavior is protecting:

In Nevada, National Review had to sue the state health exchange before we were able to obtain records about how many Obamacare navigators had criminal backgrounds, despite the fact that they were handling consumers' private information. (As it turned out, at least eight did.)

We faced similar struggles in California, where the health exchange employed some twisted logic to explain why it could not release the full records regarding navigators' criminal backgrounds:

"All of these documents are nondisclosable because 'the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record,'" a lawyer for the insurance exchange wrote, citing California Government Code §6255. "Disclosing the names and criminal records of individuals applying to assist in Covered California's push to enroll vast numbers in health insurance by March 31, 2014, is likely to discourage participation in this critical program and thus harm the people of California."

In the end, we discovered that at least 43 convicted criminals were working as Obamacare navigators in California, including individuals who had committed serious financial crimes.

And even those in the federal government whose job it is to oversee the behavior of the federal government are lashing out at the inability to collect information needed for their job. But we had finally elected the right people in charge, hadn't we? Why are they all acting like they've got something to hide? Via Fox News:

Forty-seven of the government's 73 independent watchdogs known as inspectors general voiced their complaints in a letter to congressional leaders this week. They accused several major agencies—the Justice Department, the Peace Corps and the chemical safety board—of imposing "serious limitations on access to records."

The inspectors general are now appealing to Congress to help them do their jobs uncovering waste, fraud, and mismanagement. 

"Agency actions that limit, condition, or delay access thus have profoundly negative consequences for our work: they make us less effective, encourage other agencies to take similar actions in the future, and erode the morale of the dedicated professionals that make up our staffs," they wrote. 

The letter to the chairmen and ranking members of relevant oversight committees in the House and Senate claimed agencies are withholding information by calling it "privileged."

You may ask "What the hell would the Peace Corps be classifying as privileged?" According to the letter, they were suddenly refusing to allow inspectors general access to Peace Corps' sexual assault records, even though they had done so in previous reviews. Eventually the Department of Justice intervened to get the inspectors the records. The Environmental Protection Agency has been using attorney-client privilege to try to withhold records from the inspectors.

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  1. sorry

    With that, I will quit posting shit from BaceFook, at least for the rest of the day.

  2. hahaha. So you mean if one agency uses this as an excuse and nothing else happens another will do the same thing? Jesus, who could have seen this coming?

  3. I still don’t understand why when a big company is sued they can turn over years worth of emails over in discovery despite them being “deleted” from the server, yet the government lacks this ability.

    Indeed, when I worked for a company that’s sale was caught up in anti-trust, the regulators insisted that we turn over years of email.

    1. Silly thom, the rules only apply to we peasants, not to our rulers.

    2. You see, you were held accountable to a third party, the government. The government is accountable to itself, or, you could say “self regulates”.

    3. I don’t understand how the third-party “no reasonable expectation of privacy” doctrine applies to everybody except the government. The government can access my phone records, medical records, bank and credit card records, internet records based on the idea that I have no reasonable expectation of privacy in those records since I have voluntarily submitted that information to my phone company or doctor or bank or ISP, yet somehow I have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information I submit to a government agency such that they cannot disclose that information even to another government agency?

      And why do I suspect that the DEA would be quite happy to share details of my drug dealing income with the IRS and vice versa despite this reasonable expectation of privacy?

      1. FY, that’s why.

  4. The archiving should be automatic by policy. It should require no user intervention. Storage is cheap.

    1. Moreover, it’s very easy to set up Exchange Rules to deal with the deluge of ‘outsider’ emails; you set up a white list. Any email from someone on the whitelist goes to you, the rest goes to the intern tasked with the thankless job of screening out the missives from the unwashed masses.

      1. Tarran,

        That is the way it works. These SES’ers have staff that screen their emails. Also for us (DOI), the archiving is automatic. I don’t have to send my emails anywhere to be archived, it is just done.

    2. There are federal records-retention laws, but as we’ve seen recently they often discover computer problems when embarrassing records are requested.

      But you can be damn well sure that if they needed records to cover their asses, or to exert their au-tho-ri-tie that those records would be retrieved with no problem.

      Criminal charges; that’s the only way.

  5. Doesn’t NSA have all this stuff already? Seems like a convenient one-stop shop.

    The obvious solution is for these departments not to communicate anything with anyone ever.

    However, an alternate approach is to charge each person who attempts to communicate with a government department a “communications storage fee.”

  6. The Environmental Protection Agency has been using attorney-client privilege to try to withhold records from the inspectors.

    This doesn’t even make sense in prog world. They’re not a law office, they’re a government agency. Who the fuck are they considering to be their client? Is it green cronies, its green cronies isn’t it?

  7. Huh. Must’ve been a solar flare that only affected certain parts of DC.

    1. It was the massive solar FYTW event.

      1. Perhaps it’s part of an Department of Energy experiment that went wrong, blasting the district with sentient EMP.

  8. So how long till we find government agencies making massive use of Gmail to keep their conversations off the official record?

      1. Don’t forget that is also how Petreus and his lover carried out their affair. They had a shared gmail account and wrote “draft” emails so they never got sent anywhere and couldn’t be tracked unless someone first knew about the account

    1. Now that we know Google is scanning all their GMail accounts and turning over any child porn they find to the cops, I expect a massive exodus of government worker accounts from GMail.

  9. “It’s kind of a funny story, really. You see, we had all those documents in a pile, waiting to be taken down to the Records Department, and the damnedest thing happened. It was kind of a hot day, and the A/C was on the fritz, so the gal had her window open; when the clerk from Records opened the door, everything just blew out the window. Funny, right? So, no. We will not be able to comply with your request for that information. Thanks, and have a nice day.”

  10. As I’ve said before, start jailing people for obstruction of justice until somebody squeals.

  11. “What the hell would the Peace Corps be classifying as privileged?”

    Seriously? I suppose that, if one were to get a really good indoctrination K-12, one might be so naive to wonder why. Maybe some do think that the Peace Corps is all sweetness and light, even though it is operated by the biggest badass on the planet. The realists understand that Peace Corps is just an Orwell-inspired agency name for an agency that conducts diplomacy by other means.

  12. This seems to be a good place to bring up an aspect of the old Enron issue. Anybody remember Arthur Andersen? The International CPA firm that was destroyed because they selectively destroyed old audit materials BEFORE they were served by the justice department and STOPPED once they had the subpoena? People may recall, it was front page news. The same firm that was later absolved of doing anything wrong? People may recall that too, it was on page 32 or your average paper.

    It’s breathtaking how a private entity that (technically, I still am a little squeamish about suddenly destroying documents once there’s a whiff of trouble) has done nothing wrong, certainly in a legal sense, can be wiped from existence, but government bureaucrats certainly engage in illegal, unsavory activities, and it’s par for the course. You know tyranny by such realities. The government is 1,000X worse than any private entity, but because it’s also some people’s church, it gets away with rogering alter boys and they don’t even have to bother with cover-ups and re-assignments. It’s not even hypocrisy, it’s a blatant, bold double standard.

    1. Yeeee-up.

  13. “They expect to recover “most but not all” of the e-mails.”

    Any bets being taken on which e-mails turn out to be unrecoverable?

  14. From the MSNBC article:

    According to the letter and two senior HHS officials with knowledge of the matter, Tavenner receives an unusually large number of emails ? some 10,000-12,000 per month ? since her address is public and advocacy groups occasionally urge their members to contact her. In order to stay below the agency’s Microsoft Outlook email size limit, Tavenner would regularly delete emails after copying or forwarding them to her staff for retention.

    Followed by a bunch of excuse making. Then comes the kicker.

    While it’s impossible to know how many messages might be missing, HHS staffers studied her email habits for a month and estimated that at least 90 percent of her traffic was within the agency, the officials said.

    Doesn’t that mean the excuse about her inbox being filled by random political advocates is bullshit?

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