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Labor Dept. Wanted $1M For E-mail Addresses of Political Appointees 154

Posted by timothy
from the put-a-price-on-their-heads dept.
Virtucon writes with this snippet from an Associated Press story as carried by TwinCities.com: "'The AP asked for the addresses following last year's disclosures that the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had used separate email accounts at work. The practice is separate from officials who use personal, non-government email accounts for work, which generally is discouraged—but often happens anyway—due to laws requiring that most federal records be preserved. The scope of using the secret accounts across government remains a mystery: Most U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees' email addresses, which the AP sought under the Freedom of Information Act more than three months ago. The Labor Department initially asked the AP to pay more than $1 million for its email addresses.' The reason for the $1 million dollar request was to do research including going to backup tapes. Some of the information has been turned over to AP but it still seems that the government just can't get their hands on e-mail addresses for their own people."
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Labor Dept. Wanted $1M For E-mail Addresses of Political Appointees

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @10:54AM (#43904821)

    We need to cap, or eliminatee, fees charged to citizens seeking information from the government. Hell, they already paid for the information's creation via taxes anyway.

    • They were violating their own regulation by charging a news organization. What good is another law if they'll just ignore it? That's the problem with laws limiting the government -- the government enforces them (ha) and there usually isn't a penalty for violating them. At that point, it's not a law it's a suggestion.
      • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @11:11AM (#43905029)

        They were violating their own regulation by charging a news organization.

        Why should a "news organization" be treated any differently than anyone else? Last time I read the Constitution, it appeared to apply to everyone equally, not just a select list of government approved organizations.

        • They were violating their own regulation by charging a news organization.

          Why should a "news organization" be treated any differently than anyone else? Last time I read the Constitution, it appeared to apply to everyone equally, not just a select list of government approved organizations.

          You skipped over the inconvenient part in his post: "They were violating their own regulation..."

        • by Jawnn (445279)

          Why should a "news organization" be treated any differently than anyone else? Last time I read the Constitution, it appeared to apply to everyone equally, not just a select list of government approved organizations.

          Oh, you charming little babe-in-the-woods, you. Still laboring under the illusion that what they taught you in your high-school civics class actually applies in the real world. Neither you nor a "news organization" have anywhere near the clout necessary to get an agency like The Department of Labor to actually act like branch of a government that represents the citizens. You need some serious corporate clout for that. Yes, the media still swings some weight, but they know that if they want to keep that seat

        • by AJH16 (940784)

          Because of the benefit to tax payers from it. If mass media requests information, they generally intend to relay it to lots of people if they find anything interesting or noteworthy. This is very different from Joe Blow Conspiracy Nut making hundreds of FOIA requests that cost lots of money to process to get the information that isn't useful to anyone, including the person who is asking for it. I agree there need to be reasonable limits on costs, but you still need some mechanism to prevent wasteful abus

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      We need to cap, or eliminatee, fees charged to citizens seeking information from the government. Hell, they already paid for the information's creation via taxes anyway.

      you don't need a new law as such, you need a defined penalty for ignoring the current one. like, if they had to pay penalties to AP for taking so long and being so dickheads about it(a fine that would be from government to that same government wouldn't be much of a fine!).

      • by afidel (530433)

        And the fine should be paid out of a pool from the salary of the top N officials in the non-compliant department.

      • by Dishevel (1105119) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @12:01PM (#43905589)

        How exactly would a fine help.
        I am "Government Agency"
        I do bad things.
        Someone wants info on bad things I do.
        I delay. Then I charge. Then I delay more.
        Peons sue me to pay a fine to them.
        I delay.
        I delay more.
        I pay fine from my budget that comes from the peons.
        Many peons give money through me to 1 peon.
        Next year I include these costs in my budget.
        I now control more money.

        • by HiThere (15173)

          See earlier post. Apply the fine to the management of the agency being fined, not to the agency. (Personally I think it should be pro-rata, with half the fine being assessed against the top management, half the rest against his top subordinants, half the rest against their top subordinants, etc. When you get out of management, if the entire fine isn't covered, scale all the fines up until it IS covered. I feel undecided against confidential personnel. They aren't officially management, but sometimes th

          • by Dishevel (1105119) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @04:35PM (#43908133)

            There are only 2 real answers.
            Answer 1 Prison.

            Answer 2:
                                            More complicated.
            The problem here is power and control. The US government is supposed to be one in which it "Serves" the public.
            They have too much power. Too much control. It needs to be ripped back from them. It needs to be done before they make it impossible.
            They are very close now.

    • I've personally run into this problem on a couple of occasions when making FOI requests. Once I requested court transcripts from a case that I wanted to provide to the local newspaper as evidence of an incredibly incompetent prosecutor, but the county courthouse wanted thousands of dollars to copy the transcripts and would not allow me to simply come down and copy them myself. I ran into a similar problem with the Department of Transportation when trying to build a database of VIN numbers for a used car sal

      • by frank_adrian314159 (469671) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @01:32PM (#43906507) Homepage

        ... but the county courthouse wanted thousands of dollars to copy the transcripts and would not allow me to simply come down and copy them myself.

        I should hope not. I don't want official transcripts to be handled by any random member of the community - they could be damaged or destroyed that way, maliciously or otherwise. Yes, the person doing that might be charged after the fact, but the documentation is still gone. So I'm glad they didn't hand you official government documents to dick around with however you wanted to. And, in fact, I'm not sorry that they wanted to charge you for the extra work they had to go to for you - your fellow citizens don't need to pay for your particular hobby horse.

        Besides, if the newspaper were seriously interested in your story, they would have submitted the FOIA request themselves (and paid for it). The sad truth is that reporters get "leads" from people with axes to grind all the time and the best way to deal with them is to say "Docs or it didn't happen". Unless you can present a more compelling story, you're just another nut with an agenda.

        Finally, as for the DOT "killing your business model", it's not the government's job to provide extra services to make your business succeed. You should have known about the data processing methods and their associated costs involved before you started the business. If the only people who wanted the data available were folks (like you) hoping to profit by free-riding on special work (i.e., computer system development) that they wanted done by the government, I see no reason that your fellow taxpayers should pay for your hand out.

  • by Steve1952 (651150) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @10:59AM (#43904885)

    I'm shocked that top government officials are using secret government email addresses. We should insist that they turn over every email address so that they all have to waste hours each day deleting spam and irrelevant stuff like the rest of us!

    • If only they had a large database with all of this stuff in it.

      • Large... I doubt such a database (or hell, an LDAP tree) would be too large size (combined with a bit more information than real name, eid, and a list of email and physical addresses). At least once such tree/database per major organization would be very manageable.
  • Secret or PRIVATE? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CMYKjunkie (1594319) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @11:00AM (#43904905)
    Setting aside the ridiculous $1M issue, the accounts are called secret, but aren't they simply PRIVATE? That is, they aren't publicly distributed and shared widely, but they aren't "secret" since multiple parties obviously know that they exist. Even my low-budget church has a "Minister@.com" address for the public and a private @.com.
    • **facepalm** My above post should have read minister@"domain".com and "ministersname"@"domain".com
    • by moeinvt (851793)

      Does $detiy own .com ? ;-)

    • by HCase (533294)

      But doesn't secret sound much more devious and worthy of giving clicks to?

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Setting aside the ridiculous $1M issue, the accounts are called secret, but aren't they simply PRIVATE?

      No, no they aren't:

      "We're talking about an email address, and an email address given to an individual by the government to conduct official business is not private,"

      There is no 'private' in this context. This is official government business, and by law it needs to be recorded.

      This doesn't pass the smell test. In fact, it fails it utterly.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      No, they are not private addresses.
      public officials. they recognized as much, too.

      what good would be being required to preserve records if they had another mail that wasn't preserved..

    • by rickb928 (945187)

      And if the response is that these addresses were also limited to receiving mail from specified senders, well, that's probably good enough to be called illegal also.

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      So you wouldn't have had an issue with Dick Cheney having a separate, "private" email account that he used in office, because certainly he wouldn't have discussed anything important there that he wanted 'off the books', right?

      • Well if it was still within the .gov domain it would still fall under all NARA and other legal requirements to archive. It's when Gov officials use commercial services, like DickyC@evilempire.com to control the Bush Administration that I have a problem!
  • by cold fjord (826450) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @11:25AM (#43905183)

    President Obama said he was committed to being the most transparent Administration in history. It seems to be coming true, but not in the way votes expected. But it is true, the administration is becoming increasing transparent.

    The EPA’s Secret Email Accounts [weeklystandard.com]

    Most Transparent Administration Evah is Riddled with Secret Email Addresses [pjmedia.com]

    More secret email accounts for Obama’s EPA chief? [theblaze.com]

    So, this can be added to the growing list of administration scandals fighting for public attention: Benghazi, IRS suppression of conservative political groups, IRS suppression of orthodox religious groups, IRS suppression of adoption, IRS seizure of health records, exploding costs for healthcare reform, ....

    I guess it must be morning wherever the press has been on vacation the last couple of years.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Yes, the mistake Obama made was not just ignoring FOIA requests like the previous administration did.

      Not to mention doing things like outing the wives of reporters writing critical articles.

  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @11:46AM (#43905421)

    Couldn't they just ask Bradley Manning to get them for him? Oh wait...

  • by Jodka (520060) on Tuesday June 04, 2013 @12:43PM (#43906005)

    It could be reasonably argued that government officials hava a legitimate need for both publicly-facing published email addresses and private, unpublished email addresses for inter-governmental communication. Presumably the former would be handled by their staffs for public communication and the latter used for professional communications between government officials.

    If that were the issue, there would be no scandal here, merely a difference of opinion between what is good practice. What makes this a scandal is not that the email addresses themselves were secret, but that 1). The practice of maintaining secret email accounts was itself secret 2.) With one single exception the agencies exempted the contents of the secret email accounts from FOI searches. 3) In violation of its own policy agencies sought to charge the AP fee, and quite a hight one.

    So this looks like a widespread attempt by government officials to avoid transparency and accountability, not a pragmatic attempt to manage their inboxes efficiently.

         

  • As the posters all said...

    "CHANGE"

  • ...by secret email addresses is the notion that maybe the Labor Department was mostly being honest.

    It's scary because it paints the reality of a large government bureaucracy essentially unaccountable even to the people internal to it theoretically with their hands on the levers of control, like a big bus being driven on a huge sheet of ice where you can brake, accelerate and steer but the actual responses to your inputs may have completely different outcomes than what you expect.

    It seems unfathomable that t

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