Thursday, October 27, 2011

Obama's Secret Transparency Workshop

October 22, 2011
From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:

Judicial Watch Obtains Documents Detailing Secret Department of Justice Transparency Workshop

Only in Washington would political appointees think it appropriate to keep secret a government workshop on transparency. And only in Washington would a politician promote his efforts on transparency while simultaneously taking steps to keep the American people in the dark about their government.

But that’s exactly what the Obama White House did on December 7, 2009. And Judicial Watch now has the evidence to prove it.

On Monday, we released documents detailing the Obama White House decision to close to reporters a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) training workshop conducted by the Office of Information Policy (OIP) in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). JW obtained the documents from the OIP in response to a FOIA request filed on the same day the workshop was held.

The documents consist of a series of emails between White House staff and the Director of the OIP. And here are a few key excerpts from these emails demonstrating what disrespect this White House has for transparency:
  • “I am going to touch base with my public affairs office re your suggestion to get their reaction. I, personally don’t object as my message is the same whether the event is open or not. Our concern had been solely with the inhibiting effect it would have on the gov’t ’ees [employees] who might not speak freely if press are there.” — Melanie Pustay, OIP Director, to Blake Roberts, Deputy Associate White House counsel, December 6, 2009.
  • “Ok – please don’t have them reach out to any reporters before I clear w/ wh [White House] press.” — Blake Roberts to Melanie Pustay, December 6, 2009.
  • “After talking with… ben labolt [then-Assistant White House Press Secretary], the decision is that the training will be closed to the press.” — Gina Talamona, Press Release Deputy Director for the DOJ to Melanie Pustay and Brian Hauck, Counsel to the Associate Attorney General, December 7, 2009.
  • “I think you have the right to give closed training when you want it.” — Brian Hauck to Melanie Pustay and Gina Talamona.
The documents also include a statement by OIP Director Melanie Pustay regarding previous FOIA workshops: “So far I have always held parallel sessions, one for agency ‘ees [employees] and then one that is open.”

Now that’s interesting. A different workshop for “public view” than the one the employees are getting behind closed doors.

Regarding the FOIA training conference held on December 7, 2009, it was jointly hosted by the OIP and the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) as a private workshop ostensibly to provide tips to FOIA public liaison staff members on communicating, negotiating, and resolving disputes with individuals and organizations submitting FOIA requests.
But, as we know, the devil is often in the details. And what was actually said and done in this private workshop we may never know.

And that’s why there was so much criticism heaped upon the Obama administration when the transparency workshop was closed to the public.

This decision flew in the face of Obama’s own words. On his first full day in office Barack Obama promised to “usher in a new era of open government” and directed agencies to administer the FOIA “with a clear presumption: in the face of doubt, openness prevails.” President Obama further instructed agencies that information should not be withheld merely because “public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”
So much for that.

Now, it is unlikely you’ve ever heard of the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy. I sure wouldn’t have known about it if I didn’t work at Judicial Watch. But you should know that this office at DOJ provides policy guidance and oversight for the entire federal government on freedom of information. Specifically, according to its own website the OIP is responsible “for ensuring that the President’s FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General's FOIA Guidelines are fully implemented across the government.”

The fact that the lead federal office on transparency keept secret a transparency workshop is beyond ironic.
There is a scandalously wide gap between Barack Obama’s rhetoric on transparency and the secretive policies of his administration. These documents suggest that it is the Obama White House itself that is directly responsible for this unprecedented lack of transparency.

It was supposed to be a scandal beyond all scandals when the Bush White House expressed opinions on the hiring and firing of U.S. Attorneys appointed by the President. This so-called politicization of the DOJ was supposed to end with the installation of Attorney General Eric Holder. Well, Judicial Watch understood that it would actually get worse, as Holder is a notorious political hack.

Sure enough, we caught the White House ordering around the DOJ on this important policy issue. For what other issues does the DOJ seek the opinion of the White House? Black Panthers? Fast and Furious? Suing states that want to protect their citizens from illegal immigration? Corruption investigations involving the Obama machine?

So you can see that this scandal is about more than broken transparency promises.
Speaking of a lack of transparency…

Judicial Watch’s Boeing Scandal Disclosures Gets Strong Response from Congress
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is already under fire for its unprecedented lawsuit trying to stop the Boeing Corporation from opening a non-union manufacturing line in South Carolina for its new Dreamliner plane. You read here two weeks ago about documents we obtained showing the NRLB’s stonewalling of Congress and the agency’s inappropriate pro-union bias.

Now the chairman of a powerful congressional House committee is steaming mad about what Judicial Watch found.
According to an October 17, 2011, letter from Rep. Issa, Chairman of the Committee to Lafe E. Solomon, the NLRB’s Acting General Counsel:
As you are aware, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been attempting to investigate the National Labor Relation Board’s (NLRB) complaint against The Boeing Company (Boeing) since May 12, 2011. Since then you have continuously obstructed the Committee’s constitutional duty to conduct oversight, and you have broken the law by effectively ignoring a congressional subpoena.
Specifically, Rep. Issa takes issue with documents obtained by Judicial Watch that the NLRB apparently withheld from his committee even though they were responsive to his committee’s subpoena. These documents, which we obtained on October 5, included internal correspondence between NLRB attorneys discussing the Boeing lawsuit. By way of review, here are the highlights from the documents we uncovered, which are available at
  • A May 5, 2011, email from Barry Kearney, Associate General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, to colleagues at NLRB concerning a press release issued by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) attacking Boeing: “Hooray for the red, white and blue.” NLRB attorney Miriam Szapiro responded shortly thereafter, “Good. I like this part [at last they can put it to some good use]: “the NLRB's long-term professional Regional Staff, National Office of Advice and General Counsel reviewed this case for a year…
  • A July 12, 2011, email from NLRB Regional Director Richard Ahearn to NLRB hearing officer Peter Finch, responding to an article in The Hill newspaper about a request from Rep. Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, seeking documents related to the NLRB Boeing lawsuit: “We will politely decline.” (Mr. Ahearn signed the NRLB complaint against Boeing.)
  • A May 5, 2011, email from NLRB attorney Miriam Szapiro warning an unknown recipient (name blacked out) about reading a Wall Street Journal article supporting Boeing and criticizing compulsory unionism: “don’t look at yesterday’s WSJ; you’ll puke.”
  • In response to an April 29, 2011, Wall Street Journal article, calling on President Obama to explain the NLRB lawsuit against Boeing, NLRB attorney Jayme Sophir issues a one word email response on May 2, 2011, to NLRB attorney Debra Willen, Division of Advice: “Ugh.”
Rep. Issa notes: “[T]hese documents reveal that you and other representatives of the NLRB have not been truthful to the committee and appear to be making calculated efforts to avoid compliance with the Committee’s subpoena.

“To date, you have made it clear that you do not intend to fully comply with the Committee’s August 5, 2011, subpoena. While you have attempted to mask such defiance under the cloak of the rights of litigants, it now appears you have intentionally withheld responsive documents that do not implicate the rights of litigants. Instead they demonstrate a lack of impartiality of the NLRB.”

There’s no question about that. Here we have a supposedly independent government agency cheerleading a union attack on an American company.

Rep. Issa also concluded that the emails indicate that agency officials purposely misled the Committee, a very serious charge. For instance, NLRB officials repeatedly told the Committee that they found no documents indicating correspondence between the Office of General Counsel and the NLRB Board. Yet Judicial Watch obtained those very documents from the NLRB.

“Not only do these emails undermine the independence of the Office of the General Counsel,” Rep. Issa wrote, “but they also indicate that the NLRB is acting as a ‘rogue agency’ that believes it does not have to answer to Congress.”

Interestingly, after Judicial Watch released these emails to the public the “rogue agency” still excluded them from a subsequent production to the Committee! “This is troubling and creates the appearance that you discovered these emails, realized they were damaging to the NLRB, and intentionally withheld them from the Committee,” Issa charged,

I’ve always said that “truth fears no inquiry.” The NLRB does not want the public to know it is in the back pockets of Big Labor. But these emails leave no doubt.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is now stepping up its efforts to get NLRB officials in for interviews to hold them to account in yet another government abuse scandal in the Obama administration.

In the meantime, our investigation continues as well.

And once again, your Judicial Watch is the “go-to” resource for independent and effective oversight of the Obama administration.

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