Too Green To Be Transparent

by David Bier on December 19, 2011

in Blog

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On his third day in office, President Barack Obama proposed ways to make government more open. He told the press, “The way to make government accountable is to make it transparent, so people can known exactly what decisions are being made, how they’re being made, and whether their interests are being well served.” Yet the Obama administration has attempted to hide from the public eye significant information about his environmental agenda.

Consider the negotiation of the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The New York Times reported, “There was a simple rule for negotiations between the White House and California on vehicle fuel economy: Put nothing in writing. Mary Nichols, the head of the California Air Resources Board, and Carol Browner, President Obama’s point person on energy and climate change… quietly orchestrated private discussions from the White House with auto industry officials.”

This no-records, closed negotiation is a far cry from the “accountable, transparent” government that Obama once promised, but the transition makes sense: if you’re strong-arming an industry, its best to do it privately. These negotiations were held in clear violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and Presidential Records Act, which require documentation, minutes, and records to be kept for the public. Consider just how secret:

Nichols and Browner decided to keep their discussions as quiet as possible, holding no group meetings and taking care to not leak updates to the press. This strategy, they felt, would help facilitate fast progress outside the media frenzy that often dominates Washington politics. “We put nothing in writing, ever,” Nichols said. “That was one of the ways we made sure that everyone’s ability to talk freely was protected.” She added, “It’s an astonishing thing that on something of this magnitude there were no leaks.”

But if there were leaks, this administration has made clear how it treats whistleblowers—that is, as criminals. Although the president once praised leaks as “acts of courage and patriotism” and “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government,” he has now led, as the Washington Post put it, an “unprecedented crackdown on the flow of government secrets to the media.” This unprecedented crackdown includes more indictments against whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined.

For example, consider the Obama administration’s handling of the Climategate leak. Last week, CEI’s Chris Horner discovered that “the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Criminal Division, is working with United Kingdom police to pursue the leaker of the 2009 and 2011 ‘Climategate’ emails. I have learned that last week DOJ sent a search-and-seizure letter to the host of three climate-change ‘skeptic’ blogs. Last night, UK police raided a blogger’s home and removed computers and equipment.” He continues:

On Wednesday night UK time, six detectives with the UK police (Norfolk Police Department) raided the home of at least one blogger, removing his equipment to look for clues to the identity of leaker “FOIA 2011.” On December 9, DOJ sent a preservation letter under 18 U.S.C 2703(f) to the publication platform (website host) WordPress. This authority authorizes the government to request an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to preserve all records of a specific account for 90 days while the feds work on a warrant.  Norfolk PD affirmed to the subject of at least one of their raids that this international law enforcement hunt is for the leaker, meaning not for those whose acts the leaker exposed by making public emails containing admissions in their own words.

The president has said, “A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.” But if the president’s war on whistleblowers succeeds, it will end accountable, transparent government, making only government-authorized, pre-approved, self-serving information available to the public.

Ben of Houston December 20, 2011 at 9:29 am

If you are a company and a whistleblower exposes a crime, it is a criminal offense to give retribution. On the other hand, if you are the government, it is the whistleblower that has committed the crime. This is a very concerning double-standard.

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