NSA Phone Tapping: Obama Has Failed in His Promise to Build the Public Trust

Under President Obama, the State Department is not the only agency known as Foggy Bottom. His entire administration is starting to appear to be one big giant fog.

Whether it is the use of questionable surveillance methods, the use of multiple and secretive email addresses, or a failure to implement internal auditing procedures, the Obama administration is demonstrating a lack of regard for its own promise to build, maintain, and respect the public trust.

The opening paragraph of the White House memo on transparency and open government reads, “My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.”

Rather than put in measures to build the public trust, the Obama administration has exacerbated the fragile relationship between the American people and its elected leaders.

The administration has taken full advantage of the provisions in the PATRIOT Act to spy on the American people. Back in April the FBI issued a subpoena to Verizon to produce a database dump of all calls made in the United States and abroad. Glen Greenwald of The Guardian reports that the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19. The court order bars Verizon from disclosing to the public any information related to the FBI request.

The database dumps of telecommunication records began under the Bush administration, however, just as in the case of the drone program, it has been widely expanded under Obama.

The silence around the justification for spying on American citizens is deafening and damaging to the perception of building, maintaining, and respecting the public trust.

The Obama administration has made a practice of using multiple and secretive email addresses. This makes it difficult to gather the email records of public officials that may be requested and/or needed by congressional investigators, public record requests, or civil lawsuits. CBS News explains, “Employees assigned to compile such responses would necessarily need to know about the accounts to search them.”

The Associated Press has found that secret email accounts are being used by several Obama political appointees, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. This damages the public trust by giving the impression that government officials are trying to hide actions or decisions.

The Obama administration has also failed to comply with the Inspector General Act of 1978. The act set up the Inspector General’s Office as an internal auditing function whose charter is to ensure that government agencies are operating in compliance with generally established policies of the government. The act was amended in 2008 to ensure that each inspector general is appointed “solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability in accounting, auditing, financial analysis, law, management analysis, public administration, or investigations.”

James Schmitz of the Wall Street Journal writes, "Obama has neglected his duty to fill vacant inspector-general posts at the departments of State, Interior, Labor, Homeland Security and Defense and at the Agency for International Development. The president has nominated only two candidates to fill any of these six vacancies, and he subsequently withdrew both nominations. All told, an IG has been missing in action at each of those cabinet departments and the AID agency for between 18 months and five years.”

Widespread surveillance of American citizens’ phone records, the use of secret email accounts, and a failure to implement mandated internal auditing procedures is not the way to build and maintain public trust. The American people are having trouble seeing through the fog that surrounds the Obama administration.