Of the many disturbing and damaging policies instituted during the G.W. Bush Administration, high on my list is abuse of FOIA. It started with the post 9/11-Ashcroft memo, which was institutionalized into downstream agencies, and reconfigured and rejustified over Mr. Bush’s remaining 7 years. In the public interests, one journalist sought to find out how the Labor Department’s FOIA practices were “evolving” under G.W. Bush’s non-disclosure philosophy.
In March 2005, Mine Safety and Health News (MSHN) received an anonymous tip, urging the editor, Ellen Smith, to request records from a training session held for DOL FOIA officers on March 1-2, 2005. The tipster suggested that she’d likely be very interested in what had been communicated to DOL staff and that she should specifically ask for a copy of the videotape made of the two-day session. (Presumably, the officials who organized the FOIA training session decided to videotape the event for the benefit of employees who were not able to attend.)
MSHN staffer, Kathy Snyder (who had worked as a career MSHA employee for many years) promptly sent a FOIA request to the Dept of Labor’s Solicitor’s Office, requesting the videotape and/or handouts from the training session. The Department dragged its feet for four years.
On some level, I can understand why the Bush/Chao Labor Department was refusing to make public this information: it would make them look bad (setting aside whether that ever bothered them.) But, our federal government’s policies and practices were supposed to change on January 20, 2009. Surely under the new Obama/Solis Administration, sharing information about what happened under the other guys’ watch would be easy to give up. But that’s not what’s been happening. The news outlet made repeated requests for this 2005 FOIA training session info and Mrs. Solis’ Dept of Labor still failed to issue a response, until this week.
On June 2, Kathy Snyder received a final response saying that the video recording of the training session had been transferred to diskette at some point, and the diskette was “unusable.“ Why did it take the Dept of Labor 4 years to figure out that the only copy of this videotape was damaged, making it impossible to view? This might be the truth, but it sounds awful lame to me. Could it really be that the only surviving copy of this videotape is unviewable?
The Department, in lieu of the video, did release some printed handouts from the conference, but obviously those do not cover the same ground as a complete recording.
WANTED: Labor Dept’s videotape of March 2005 FOIA training seminar
Oyea! Oyea! Calling readers of The Pump Handle who reside in DOL’s hinterlands—whether SOL, OSHA, ESA, MSHA or another—if you have a viewable copy of the videotape from the March 1-2, 2005 FOIA training seminar for DOL staff, or other pertinent information, please contact me at 202-994-0774 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Isn’t it time that the public—those who are supposed to be served by DOL agencies— know whether the Bush/Chao FOIA policies obstructed the public’s right-to-know, or worker protections themselves? Please help us answer that question.
Celeste Monforton, MPH, DrPH worked at DOL from 1991-2001. By mentioning Secretary Solis in this blog post, Celeste hopes to get the attention of the Secretary’s staff, just in case they are not already familiar with MSHA’s and SOL’s FOIA shenanigans. Celeste wonders whether MSHA’s senior staff and SOL have read Attorny General Holder’s FOIA memo.