One of the great ironies of the Obama administration is that candidate Obama was all about openness in governement. But under his leadership, federal agencies are stunningly arrogant.
Part of a broader pattern of vigorously controlling every nuance of the government’s image, this obsession veers into outright violation of federal statutes.
The Oregonian this week brought to light one such case. The Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy “continue to shield themselves from public scrutiny by systematically blocking and delaying the release of related public records,” according to a report by Ted Sickinger.
This case involves the former top two executives at BPA, who got into trouble more than a year ago for hiring practices that appeared to violate federal hiring rules designed to provide job pathways for military veterans. Those documents that have been released “described a massively dysfunctional human resources operation that was routinely violating federal hiring rules and sidestepping qualified veterans who should have had preference rights to open positions.”
One of these BPA executives is Anita Decker, who made a favorable impression in Astoria earlier in her career when she managed local Pacific Power operations. She and her boss, BPA Administrator Bill Drummond, were suspended from their jobs amid allegations they played some role in the hiring scandal and a subsequent effort to hush up internal whistleblowers. But at this point, the issue isn’t so much Drummond and Decker as it is the efforts by BPA and DOE to shut down press investigations into the matter.
The Oregonian’s story, available at tinyurl.com/msvpo35, is enough to make any conscientious citizen’s blood boil with indignation.
There is ample reason to believe that internal agency emails, documents, expense accounts and other records will reveal information about the hiring controversy and the alleged cover-up, plus other matters that are of obvious and proper interest to taxpaying citizens. And yet news organizations have encountered long, unexplained delays in fulfilling records requests. The names of public employees have been blacked out of some documents that were provided.
Other requests have been outright denied for reasons that appear spurious. For example, BPA is refusing to hand over statements for an agency credit card issued to a senior executive who is believed to have taken personal cash advances from the government’s credit line. BPA states “there is no public interest in the information and that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”
This all constitutes a fundamental and deeply troubling misapprehension of the proper relationship between federal agencies, the news media and the public. Information of the kind being sought belongs to the public. Open access is essential to maintaining a correct relationship between citizens and public servants.
BPA’s and DOE’s delaying tactics and obfuscations are unacceptable. A responsible White House would order immediate agency compliance with the law. But there is little hope for such intervention, considering this administration’s own pattern of withholding information and pursing news leaks.