After months of wrangling with government agencies over Freedom of Information Act requests, The Associated Press has an interesting bit of news today: Some of Obama's most important appointees use non-public email addresses to conduct official business.
The AP calls those email addresses "secret," and they are different from the frowned-upon practice of using personal email addresses to conduct business. These email addresses are set up by the government and intended for official use.
Administration officials have defended using secret email addresses because they say it streamlines business. The non-public email address, for example, is not overwhelmed with email.
National Security Counselors, an open government group, worries that when it comes to keeping records, this is a problem. Imagine, they told the AP, that the government receives a Freedom of Information Act request about Obamacare. Will the Department of Health and Human Services sift through HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' official email (Kathleen.Sebelius(at)hhs.gov) and her secret one (KGS2(at)hhs.gov)?
The government argues that it does exactly that.
In its report, the AP doubts it. They report:
"[The AP] searched hundreds of pages of government emails previously released under the open records law and found only one instance of a published email with a secret address: an email from Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio to 34 coworkers in 2010 was turned over to an advocacy group, Americans for Limited Government. It included as one recipient the non-public address for Seth D. Harris, currently the acting labor secretary, who maintains at least three separate email accounts.
"Google can't find any reference on the Internet to the secret address for HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Congressional oversight committees told the AP they were unfamiliar with the non-public government addresses identified so far by the AP."
The AP reports that because they have not received responses to all its FOIA requests, they are not sure how widespread this practice is.
Note at 12:36 p.m.: In publicizing Sebelius' non-public email address, the news service says:
"The AP decided to publish the secret address for Sebelius — KGS2(at)hhs.gov — over the government's objections because the secretary is a high-ranking civil servant who oversees not only major agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services but also the implementation of Obama's signature health care law. Her public email address is Kathleen.Sebelius(at)hhs.gov."