May 12th, 2011, Fairfax, VA—Americans for Limited Government (ALG) is appealing the Department of Labor’s refusal to turn over all documents related to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on enforcement of 185 laws the Department is required to follow.
The request covered the Department’s implementation of an online enforcement database, which should have included prosecutions of corruption in labor unions, ALG maintains, but was not.
“The FOIA is being stonewalled by the Labor Department,” said ALG President Bill Wilson. “That data should be in the database, and the question is why not.”
Wilson said “it’s possible they don’t want that information to be public because it makes union officials look bad. It may be embarrassing, but we want those documents; the public has a right to know.”
ALG filed the FOIA request in August 2010, the first to the Office of the Secretary (OSEC), which produced no initial response. This compelled the organization to file two follow-ups to the FOIA requests: one to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management in Feb. 2011 and the other to the Department’s Office of the Solicitor (SOL) in Mar. 2011.
“We initially requested information from the Department in order to better understand how the Department is communicating its enforcement statistics through its online enforcement database,” said ALG Counsel Nathan Mehrens. “This database is mysteriously missing certain critical information such as the number of union officials who were prosecuted by the Department for stealing from union members.”
The follow-up to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management again hit a stone wall. On April 18, they finally replied that “A search was conducted within the Office of the Secretary. No records were found responsive to your request.”
But then the Solicitor’s office did find responsive documents — through the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy (OASP). According to the appeal, “Based on the evidence received from OASP it is clear that senior personnel from OSEC have in their possession federal records that are responsive to Appellant’s FOIA request. As such, the assertion from OSEC that they found ‘no documents responsive’ to Appellant’s request is either incorrect or the OSEC did not perform an adequate search for responsive records to Appellant’s request.”
Mehrens said the Department was not living up to Barack Obama’s vow for transparency in his Administration, who said Jan. 21, 2009, “Let me say it as clearly as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”
Mehrens explained, “This was followed up by further guidance from both the President and the Attorney General on how the government was to handle releasing information to the public in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.”
In that guidance the federal government was instructed to quickly turn around information requests and that it should have a bias toward disclosure and not attempt to redact information merely because of technicalities.
Wilson said the Administration was “two-faced on transparency,” concluding, “This is not the kind of transparency we were promised by Obama. Based on our two years of work requesting records from the Obama Administration it appears that not everyone has received the message. It’s time for the Administration to stop stonewalling legitimate requests.”
Americans for Limited Government FOIA Appeal, May 10th, 2011 at http://washingtonalert.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/05-10-11-OASAM-Appeal-online-enforc-database-Binder1.pdf.
Interview Availability: Please contact Rebekah Rast at (703) 383-0880 or at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an interview with ALG President Bill Wilson.