Today the Associated Press has released an article detailing how Barack Obama's administration has not upheld the promise of being the most transparent in history. The Freedom of Information laws allow for federal records to be available to anyone upon request. However, according to the AP, the government has made this tough for journalists with the use of secret email addresses being used to conduct government business by Obama appointees like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. This obscures the dealings between appointees, and while nothing untoward may be occurring, it gives the impression that they're cheating on freedom as it gives the perception government officials are hiding their actions and decisions.
The use of secret accounts across the government is not well-known as many of the U.S. agencies have failed to turn over lists of political appointees' email addresses. These lists were originally sought by the AP more than three months ago, with the Labor Department initially asking the AP to pay more than $1 million for the lists.
The lists were sought after following last year's disclosure about the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency using separate accounts at work. Normally, the use of personal and non-governmental emails are discouraged from being used at government offices, due to the laws that require most federal records to be preserved.
Part of the complications that come with using secret email accounts comes to play when it is an agencys legal responsibilities to find and turn over emails during congressional or internal investigations, civil lawsuits, or public records requests. Therefore, the employees appointed to compile such responses would need to know about the accounts to comply with the legal responsibilities of the agency.
So far the agencies identified by the AP, including the Labor Department and HHS, have said that maintaining non-public email accounts are used to keep internal messages with agency employees and emails exchanged with the public separate. Additionally, they have said that both public and non-public accounts are searched and records provided in response to official requests. However, the AP could only find one instance of a published email with a secret address: an email from Labor Department spokesman Cal Fillichio in 2010 which was turned over to an advocacy group, Americans for Limited Government.
As of now, t10 agencies have yet to respond to the AP's request of the email addresses. These include the Environmental Protection Agency; the Pentagon; and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Treasury, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security, and Commerce and Agriculture.