The Defense Department ignored its regulations when it provided 1.4 million servicemen's names and addresses to the Reagan-Bush Campaign Committee in 1984, according to a General Accounting Office report due to be released today.
The campaign committee obtained 20 computer tapes of addresses by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It used them to mail political literature on behalf of Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, the GAO said.
The GAO does not say that the names should have been withheld, but that the normal process for evaluating the FOIA request was not followed; in one case, a document was backdated to expedite release of the information, the report said. In addition, although Pentagon officials checked with the White House general counsel, they did not refer the request to the military services, which had "the greatest proprietary interest in the data," according to the report.
Military officials had expressed misgivings in the past about releasing such lists, because of concern about invasions of privacy and security risks. At the time of the Reagan-Bush request, the Navy was arguing in U.S. District Court here that it should not have to release a similar list to the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co.
The court ruled last year that the Navy could not withhold the list from the insurance company, even if it would be used for "unwanted solicitation," the report says. Among other reasons for rejecting the Navy argument, the court noted that the Pentagon had "provided similar information to the Reagan-Bush Campaign Committee," the GAO said.
"The committee's request was processed without any apparent consideration by the DOD Department of Defense officials involved of the effect release of the data would have on this case," the GAO added.
The GAO report was requested by Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), chairman of the Goverment Operations Committee. Brooks intends to forward the results to the Defense inspector general for further investigation, an aide said.
A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday, "We haven't seen the GAO study so we can't comment."
Normally, FOIA requests are referred to a central Pentagon clearinghouse, which sends them to any division with an interest in the information to be released -- in this case the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.
But the request from the campaign committee went to officials in the Pentagon manpower division, which referred the request to the Defense Manpower Data Center for processing. A legal adviser in the manpower division told the GAO that "he believed the public interest was being served by helping to increase voter turnout."
Pentagon officials who normally handle Freedom of Information requests were alerted only after the Air Force liaison at the Defense Manpower Data Center "voiced concern" to the Air Force Freedom of Information coordinator, who in turn "voiced a strong objection to releasing the information," according to statements given the GAO. The central clearinghouse was then notified and informed the services of the release, but did not seek their opinion, the GAO said.