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FOIA Details Pruitt’s Deep Industry Ties, Costly Security Detail: FRINFORMSUM 10/5/2017

October 5, 2017

FOIA Details Pruitt’s Deep Industry Ties, Costly Security Detail  

A FOIA request from American Oversight has won the “most detailed look” to date at Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt’s schedule. The 320-pages reveal the daily schedule for Pruitt’s first three months in office (February through May); included on the schedule is an ongoing string of meetings with executives and lobbyists from, among other companies, Shell, chemical maker Chemours Company, coal-burning utilities company Southern Company, coal-mining powerhouse Alliance Resource Partners, General Motors, and the Family Research Council (whose mission is to “advance faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview”). The schedule also shows that Pruitt took several flights home to Oklahoma and made time for “long stretches of downtime,” but took “almost no meetings with environmental groups or consumer or public health advocates.”

The disclosure adds to previous FOIA releases by showing, for the first time, “a description of the topics discussed at each of the meetings, and a list of all the agency officials and corporate executives scheduled to attend.” The New York Times reports, “The newly released documents, for the first time, create a direct link between Mr. Pruitt’s meetings and actions that the industry wants him to take.”

Comparing Pruitt’s records with his predecessor under President Obama, Gina McCarthy, also shows that Pruitt spends considerably less time “meeting with E.P.A. professional staff and other federal government officials.”

FOIA requests to the EPA have also helped shed light on how much Pruitt’s protective detail costs; specifically, they show that Pruitt’s detail costs twice as much as his predecessors, and that “the EPA spent $832,735.40 on Pruitt’s protection detail for the three-month period.” The 24-hour security also requires three-times as many people as previous EPA heads, and has forced agency officials to rotate special agents who would normally investigate environmental crimes, something never before seen.

FOIA Request Seeks Info on Scrapped Equal Pay Rule

The National Women’s Law Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are leading a coalition of more than 90 other organizations in a FOIA request to the Office of Management and Budget for information on “the Trump administration’s decision to halt an Obama-era initiative aimed at fighting employer discrimination against women and minorities.” The central question “is whether officials talked to equal-pay advocates or conducted meaningful research before shutting it down” and whether the legal standards to block the measure were met.

The request concerns a rule the Trump administration froze in August “that would have required companies to file data broken down by race, ethnicity and gender on what they pay workers” that was finalized last September and would have been implemented this year.

Overturned OLC Memo Says Presidents Can’t Hire Relatives

A Politico FOIA request won the release of recently-overturned Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel memos issued to the Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administrations that concluded presidents “cannot appoint their relatives to the White House staff or presidential commissions, even to unpaid posts.” The OLC found that doing so would be illegal under a 1967 anti-nepotism law.

In January, at the request of the Trump administration, Justice Department attorney Daniel Koffsky “concluded that another law, passed in 1978, conferred broad authority on the president to appoint White House officials essentially overrides the earlier anti-nepotism measure.”

Josh Gerstein notes of the OLC release, “In a letter accompanying Monday’s release, OLC attorney Paul Colborn said most of the memos were covered by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege applicable to advice rendered to the president or his aides. Colborn said the Justice Department was releasing the opinions ‘as a matter of discretion.’”

ICE FOIA Library Down

MuckRock’s Emma Best recently pointed out that U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement took down its FOIA library on October 3 “for review.” As of writing this, the site, which houses, among other things, the agency’s FOIA reports that ICE is required to make public under the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996, is still down.

It is hard to imagine that a legitimate reason why a review of ICE’s FOIA library would require it to be taken offline. The National Security Archive will be watching.

Treasury IG Says FOIA Needs Improvement

The Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration has determined the IRS needs to improve its FOIA processing, and that the IRS “improperly withheld information 14.3 percent of the time—or approximately 1 in 7 FOIA requests.” The report can be read here.

The National Security Archive maintains a list of oversight reports, including IG and GAO reports on agencies compliance with the FOIA. The list of over 80 reports can be found here; if we are missing any, let us know and we will add them.

FBI Can Keep Secret How Much it Paid for iPhone Hack

A federal judge has sided with the government, ruling in a FOIA case brought by USA Today, The Associated Press, and Vice, that the FBI does not have to disclose how much it paid to unlock the iPhone used by one of the San Bernadino shooters that left 14 people dead, or who it paid to do it. (Former FBI director Comey hinted that it was more than $1.4 million.) U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that the identity of the firm is properly classified and constitutes intelligence sources or methods; she found that the amount constituted confidential law enforcement techniques or procedures.

The Archive’s Peter Kornbluh Inducted Into Order of Bernardo O’Higgins

The National Security Archive’s senior analyst, Peter Kornbluh, has been inducted into “the order of Bernardo O’Higgins.” Chile’s Ambassador Juan Gabriel Valdes presented the award, which the Chilean government gives to foreigners who have made a special contribution to Chilean society, during a Sunday ceremony at the Chilean Embassy.

In presenting the award, Ambassador Valdes recognized Kornbluh’s leadership role in decades of efforts to obtain the declassification of secret documents on the coup and the Pinochet regime. In his acceptance speech Kornbluh noted that the documents were invaluable to “speaking truth to power” because there “was no better way to reveal the truth than to reveal the words those in power spoke and wrote.”

Cyber Vault: DOD’s Information Operations Condition 

A 1999 Joint Chiefs of Staff memo – that was recently released to the National Security Archive in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request – establishes a framework for responses to attacks on DoD computers and telecommunications. It is unclear if the INFOCON is current, but it is a valuable glimpse into the information warfare response at DoD regardless.

The document is one of 12 new additions posted in the National Security Archive’s Cyber Vault on Wednesday, October 4.

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