As Americans suffered through the early failures of healthcare.gov last October, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sought answers about who was responsible. Led by Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the oversight panel subpoenaed the Department of Health and Human Services for, among other things, communications among senior officials during the period leading up to and through the first month of the Obamacare website’s launch debacle.
Ten months later – that is, about 300 days – HHS leaders finally got around to informing Congress that there is an issue with emails from Marilyn Tavenner, one of the department's key senior executives on Obamacare. Tavenner routinely deleted official business emails even though she was a career government employee who knew that it was illegal to do so. That means some of Tavenner’s emails “might not be retrievable,” according to HHS.
|Coincidences abound for those serving in â€œthe most transparent administration in history.â€ï¿½|
If true, this represents a violation of federal laws requiring the preservation of government records. These laws are important because Americans have a right to know what people entrusted with running their government are doing. And once again, as with other high-profile controversies at the IRS and the Environmental Protection Agency, emails from important Obama administration officials somehow continue to elude public scrutiny. Coincidences abound for those serving in “the most transparent administration in history.”
The agency's correspondence informing the oversight committee of the violation is nearly as infuriating as the flouting of transparency laws. Far from contrite, the letter begins with complaints about the insufficiency of the HHS budget. "During this time of fiscal restraints,” it read, “the department has committed significant resources to responding to the committee's requests.” Perhaps more of the budget for the federal government’s most expensive department should be earmarked for compliance with federal record preservation and public disclosure laws.
The note continues by recounting that HHS has already produced many thousands of records pursuant to the healthcare.gov investigation. This sounds like the deadbeat tenant who expects his landlord to be satisfied that he pays rent most of the time – not an executive branch department that is theoretically accountable to the American people through their Congress.
Issa said in a statement responding to HHS that this is the 20th instance of officials in the Obama administration destroying emails of witnesses after Congress has sought them, then waiting months before making the fact public. Were it just one or two instances, benefit of the doubt would be in order. After 20 instances, other standards apply.
When IRS officials were recently exposed for destroying official records related to targeting Tea Party and conservative groups — again, in apparent contravention of federal law — Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a former prosecutor, delivered an eloquent and *much-watched lecture on “spoliation of evidence.” When defendants destroy evidence, juries are advised that they may infer that whatever was scuttled was damaging to those charged. By now, taxpayers are likewise entitled to draw similar inferences about why so many Obama administration officials have violated federal laws on freedom of information and preservation of federal records.