The day after he was inaugurated in 2009, President Obama issued a “Transparency and Open Government” memo to all agencies and promised an “unprecedented level of openness in government.”
Two months later, Attorney General Eric Holder, who heads the enforcement agency for Freedom of Information Act matters, issued a memo saying that FOIA requests should be handled “with a presumption of disclosure.”
It’s not clear — could be Obama was just kidding or maybe Holder really meant to say “presumption of non-disclosure”— but it would seem government secrecy is alive and well right here in River City.
The Justice Department, Loop Fans may recall, has been the proud recipient — two years straight! — of the Rosemary Award, given by the National Security Archive for “the worst open-government performance” of any federal agency.
Last week, in the midst of the Great Sequester, the Justice Department said Holder was leaving Saturday for New Zealand to participate in the fifth annual “Quintet Meeting of Attorneys General” of the U.S., New Zealand, Canada, Australia and Great Britain. (The meeting, we’re told, is quite legit, the venue rotates.)
There were other meetings mentioned and “remarks” at the University of Auckland Law School which were “closed to the press.” The announcement said he was going to stop off on the return trip to meet with the head of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM).
Holder, as we have written, last summer visited, among other places, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, Denmark, Germany, Guam, Malaysia, and Singapore.
So in this time of sequester, when we heard he was taking “a bunch of staff” to New Zealand, we wondered who was going, whether any spouses were included and if they were flying commercial or on a government plane. (Really just the usual info.)
The New Zealand government Web site indicates the Quintet event is a one-day meeting on Wednesday, leaving plenty of time for our participants to recover from jet lag, maybe visit the Hobbit Shire only a couple hours by bus from Auckland.
On Monday and Tuesday we were able to determine Holder was on one of those comfy government jets and no spouses were along.
But the acting head of public affairs, Nanda Chitre, who is on the trip, re-buffed e-mails asking which Justice staff were along. “Going to decline on providing a list,” she e-mailed twice on Tuesday, and didn’t respond to a request to give any reason for declining.
She did confirm that the PACOM meeting was, naturally, at its headquarters in beautiful Hawaii — the initial release didn’t note that — but would not say if the Holder team was staying overnight.
FOIA request to follow.