Steven Aftergood over at Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News project writes today that President Trump recently commented off-handedly that reports from the Department of Defense’ Inspector General should be private and not publicly accessible. It’s unclear if this off-the-cuff comment will lead to less public access to these important reports, but Aftergood notes that “secrecy in the Department of Defense has increased noticeably in the Trump Administration” but that the Pentagon still publishes a massive amount of information. What is clear is that this one small comment could have huge implications going forward from “For Official Use Only” markings to restrict access to information to perhaps an erosion of the FOIA process. This is certainly something to keep an eye on.
The recurring dispute over the appropriate degree of secrecy in the Department of Defense arose in a new form last week when President Trump said that certain audits and investigations that are performed by the DoD Inspector General should no longer be made public.
“We’re fighting wars, and they’re doing reports and releasing it to the public? Now, the public means the enemy,” the President said at a January 2 cabinet meeting. “The enemy reads those reports; they study every line of it. Those reports should be private reports. Let him do a report, but they should be private reports and be locked up.”
It is not clear what the President had in mind. Did he have reason to think that US military operations had been damaged by publication of Inspector General reports? Was he now directing the Secretary of Defense to classify such reports, regardless of their specific contents? Was he suggesting the need for a new exemption from the Freedom of Information Act to prevent their disclosure?
Or was this simply an expression of presidential pique with no practical consequence? Thus far, there has been no sign of any change to DoD publication policy in response to the President’s remarks.
[UPDATE 1/8/2019]: Here’s more context about the DoJ’s disinformation report on immigrants:
Case Closed: The Justice Department Won’t Stand Behind Its Report on Immigrants and Terrorism””. By Benjamin Wittes Monday, January 7, 2019.
Don’t look now, but the United States Department of Justice just came perilously close to admitting that it engaged in disinformation about immigrants and terrorism in a formal government report.
Also of interest in this post is the reference to an obscure law called the “Information Quality Act” which “requires federal government agencies to employ sound science in making regulations and disseminating information” (“What is the Information Quality Act (aka Data Quality Act?). JRJ
Well this is pretty messed up. The Justice Department is refusing to retract or correct a document that falsely links terrorism to immigration, according to the Washington Post. The Federal government is supposed to be a reputable publisher who is supposed to work for the American public. But when dubious, politicized reports based on misleading data are published, it calls into question the veracity of government published works.
This is the reason that information literacy — or as my buddy howard Rheingold calls it, “crap detection” (borrowed from Ernest Hemingway!) which 2 librarians at Dominican University helpfully turned into an acronym: Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose/Point of View! Unfortunately, a document like this would probably pass the information literacy standards set by the American Library Association. The reader must have a great amount of context in order to detect the crap in this report. Perhaps GPO will update the record for this document in its Catalog of Government Publications to include a note on the report’s dubious nature. yes, librarians need to teach crap detection, but they should also include context to metadata describing the information which is under their control.
The Justice Department has acknowledged errors and deficiencies in a controversial report issued a year ago that implied a link between terrorism in the United States and immigration, but — for the second and final time — officials have declined to retract or correct the document.
2019 is not starting off on a good foot for the Government Publishing Office (GPO). NPR reports that in June 2018, GPO’s Office of Inspector General sent an interim report to the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP), the congressional committee that oversees the agency finding mismanagement, misuse of position, and disregard” for hiring and contracting rules. We’ll see how this plays out, and hopefully it won’t negatively effect the working of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) which GPO runs in collaboration with 1100+ libraries across the US.
It’s important to note that this isn’t the first time that GPO has found itself in hot water, and this allegation, in my opinion, sounds like a single instance of personnel issue gone bad, not a case of massive organizational corruption. Remember that in 2007 – 2008, GPO’s leadership — not coincidentally led by the Trump Administration’s current nominee for GPO Director and former public printer Robert C. Tapella! — was caught in a case of outsourcing and massively overcharging the State Department for the sale of millions of blank passports and then going on spending sprees and travel junkets in order to spend the ill-gained profits. The story was covered by the Washington Times and also republished on a bulletin board of a right wing political bulletin board.
Allegations of cronyism, wasteful spending and other misconduct are roiling a little-known federal agency in charge of producing and distributing the government’s official documents, including paper questionnaires for the upcoming 2020 census.According to an internal watchdog report obtained by NPR, two officials at the U.S. Government Publishing Office — previously known as the Government Printing Office — allegedly violated federal laws and regulations by filling agency jobs with unqualified candidates, including an official’s son. The GPO’s Office of Inspector General has not finalized its findings, but in June, it sent an interim report to the joint congressional committee that oversees the agency.
Lawmakers on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee have “sought additional information regarding allegations of misconduct at the GPO,” according to Katie Boyd, spokeswoman for Chairman Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. His committee shares oversight of the GPO with the House Administration Committee.
The inspector general’s office found “mismanagement, misuse of position, and disregard” for hiring and contracting rules by two of the agency’s most senior managers over the course of four years, beginning in 2014 during the Obama administration, according to the report.
Happy holidays from FGI! Seeing as many are not at work or checking their email, you might have missed that Depository Library Council recently released their recommendations to GPO. Under the tree this year is a recommendation to create a digital deposit working group! We’ve been talking for over a decade about the need for digital deposit – whereby GPO would actually deposit digital files to libraries just as they do currently with paper documents. Digital deposit will ensure the preservation and access of digital government information disseminated by GPO and allow libraries to continue to build collections for their designated communities. This is a huge step forward!
Recommendation #3: Council recommends the creation of a working group to explore current and future needs related to digital deposit – both dissemination of content and acceptance of content by GPO. At a minimum, two appropriate members of GPO staff, two members of DLC, and two members of the FDLP community should be appointed to serve on the Digital Deposit Working Group for one year. Composition of the working group should be chosen by DLC in consultation with GPO staff. The Working Group should report findings and recommendations – either initial or final – at the Fall 2019 FDLP annual meeting.
Justification: Council believes that such a Digital Deposit Working Group is a critically important and inclusive step in reaching consensus on how federal information in digital forms should be disseminated to and amongst the FDLP community for the benefit of all our users.
Check out the great new podcast initiative called Data Remediations from our friends at the Data Refuge. If the first episode shows anything, it’s that this podcast will be a must to listen to going forward as it’ll be chock full of interviews with interesting people working on various aspects of data use and preservation – and by the way, Jim Jacobs and I will be on a future episode to talk about our Free Government Information (FGI) efforts.
In this episode, hosts Patricia Kim and Bethany Wiggin introduce Data Remediations, a podcast connecting data with people and places through stories and art. Interviews with Eric Holthaus, Michael Halpern, Denice Ross, Margaret Janz, Tad Schurr, and the Environmental Performance Agency further contextualize the origins of Data Refuge and its storytelling project.