“President Obama is committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history. That begins with taking comments and questions from you, the public, through our website,” says the White House’s correspondence page.
It’s a lofty goal, but one also punctured by The Associated Press’ discovery that several Obama appointees are using secret government email accounts to conduct official business. This complicates the agencies’ legal obligations to locate and turn over their correspondence and related records for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, congressional inquiries, or other investigations because people assigned to compile these records would need to know about the accounts in order to search them.
Not to mention, secret accounts only serve to fuel accusations of deviance or corruption with the decisions or actions of government officials.
While House spokesman Jay Carney recognized the practice Tuesday, and expressed approval for Cabinet secretaries and other high-profile officials to have what are being called alternative email accounts, safe from unwanted messages.
“There’s nothing secret,” Carney said, and maintained that all email accounts, public and otherwise, were subjected to congressional oversight and FOIA requests.
Carney would not say if White House officials use secret accounts, and thickening matters, the president’s staff, like Congress, is exempt from turning over records under the open records law. Under this law, the AP reviewed hundreds of pages of government emails and couldn’t independently locate times when material from the identified secret accounts was turned over.
A few nonpublic government addresses have been identified by the AP so far, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. There has been once instance of a secret address being published, found in a message from Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio which was turned over to the advocacy group Americans for Limited Government. The email also included the nonpublic address for Seth D. Harris, the current acting labor secretary, as recipient; he maintains at least three separate email accounts.
So while this investigation is certainly complex with several layers of information and raw data, what can it mean for us? Is this really a measure to avoid hassles with correspondence, or something more menacing used to avoid detection? While it’s dangerous to start making assumptions as the investigation is breaking, it’s certainly cause to pay attention, and keep watching.