Top Federal Health Official to Spokesperson While Obamacare Website Crashes: "Please delete this email…"



On October 5, 2013, just days after Obamacare's exchanges officially—and disastrously—launched, Marilyn Tavenner, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), sent an email to Julie Bataille, a spokesperson for CMS who frequently represented the administration in press calls dealing with Obamacare.

Tavenner's email to Bataille was a forward of an email from Jeanne Lambrew, a key White House health policy adviser, about some of the issues that Obamacare's newly launched exchange system was having processing health insurance applications.

But what's most interesting about the email exchange isn't the particular content of that discussion. It's the first four words of Tavenner's note to Bataille, her spokesperson and subordinate: "Please delete this email."

The email was released by the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which has requested documents related to the botched launch of Obamacare's online health exchange last fall.

It raises a number of questions about the administration's email retention policies, and its interest in keeping certain discussions out of the public eye: Was it common for senior officials to instruct employees to delete emails? What else might have been deleted? And how does this fit in with the agency's recent apology, in a letter to the National Archives, that some of its communications may have been lost due to deletion as a result of "extremely high volume of emails"?

The gist of the defense from CMS is that there's no need for a fuss because obviously the email was retained and made available to the House Committee as requested. But that's hardly reassuring. If the practice was common, and other emails were deleted and are now irretrievable, then there's no telling what's missing, and what those looking into the administration's botched management remain unable to see. 

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  1. Huh. So should I add “DESTROY ALL INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE” to my signature block? That’s okay now?

  2. New FOIA request: all emails with the phrase “please delete this email”. Would probably make for fun reading.

    1. Actually, yes.

      1. 1. Type of Request(Check appropriate box.)

        x Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): I am a U.S. citizen/Lawful Permanent Resident and I am requesting documents other than
        my own records.

        2. Description of Record(s) Requested: NOTE: While you are not required to respond to all items in Number 2, failure to provide complete and specific information as requested may result in a delay in processing or an inability to locate the record(s) or information requested.

        (please specify): Everything that tends to incriminate anyone in government.

        Purpose: To impeach as many people in government as possible.

        Optional. You are not required to state the purpose of your request. However, doing so may assist USCIS in locating the
        record(s) needed to respond to your request.)

    1. Totes. I mean, this is like the most transparent administration, ever, right?

      1. Sadly, yes. although “blatant” might be a better word than “transparent.”

  3. Was it common for senior officials to instruct employees to delete emails?

    No, I’m sure this was the only one, ever…at least until the next one.

    1. Really, if this had come to light in any administration 20+ years ago or in any Republican administration at any time, we’d be knee-deep in investigations, hearings, and likely impeachments.

    2. It probably was common, that’s why they don’t have a smidgen of email.

  4. Actually, the Obama administration is the most transparent ever. Did William Howard Taft ever release a single email, suspicious or otherwise?

  5. Asking someone to delete a record is a crime. But hey, I am sure Eric Holder is going to get right on investigating it.

  6. It would be interesting to know how many emails in the records contain that phrase.

    If its very low, it means the orders have been followed, if its very high, it means its regularly ignored, if its middlin, we probably have a bunch of emails missing.

    And no, I cant define middlin.

    1. Here is my “logic”. Maybe Im wrong.

      If this was a rare request, the recipient would have freaked over it and reported it. So it must not be rare. The recipient didnt follow thru, so it may be something regularly requested but not followed. If so, there should be huge numbers that have the request. If the number is tiny, then its mostly followed and huge swaths of records are lost.

      It its somewhere in the middle, the really important records are missing.

  7. Once again, I’ll just be the guy that chimes in about how ridiculous it is that the government doesn’t backup every single email when this seems to be standard practice just about everywhere else.

  8. Knowing what we know about bureaucracies, wouldn’t FOIA work better if there was a bureau dedicated to doing nothing but that, and dicking over other agencies and bureaucrats who fail to comply with recordkeeping standards?

    1. Now that would be an agency I could accept with its own SWAT team to compel compliance..

  9. I have a Swiss account and 3 offshore accounts in tax haven islands.
    Please delete this comment.

  10. Too terminally stupid to be leading the nation’s largest health agency. And craven–it’s a violation of law to delete such e-mails or counsel others to do so.

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