THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

House panel looks at records requests

Associated Press / January 17, 2011

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WASHINGTON — A House committee has reportedly asked the Homeland Security Department to provide documents about an agency policy that required political appointees to review many Freedom of Information Act requests before the records were released.

A letter to Homeland Security, obtained yesterday by the Associated Press, was sent late Friday by US Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The request represents an early move by House Republicans who have vowed to launch numerous investigations of President Obama’s administration.

The AP reported in July that Homeland Security had sidetracked hundreds of requests for federal records to top political advisers to the department’s secretary, Janet Napolitano.

The political appointees wanted information about those requesting the materials, and in some cases the release of documents considered politically sensitive was delayed, according to numerous e-mails that were obtained by the AP.

The Freedom of Information Act is supposed to ensure the quick public release of requested government documents without political consideration. Obama has said his administration would emphasize openness in providing requested federal records.

According to Issa’s letter, Homeland Security’s chief privacy officer and Freedom of Information Act official told committee staff in September that political appointees were simply made aware of “significant and potentially controversial requests.’’

Mary Ellen Callahan told them that political appointees reviewed the agency’s Freedom of Information Act response letters for grammatical and other errors and did not edit or delay their release, the letter states. She also told the committee that Homeland Security abandoned the practice in response to the AP’s article, according to Issa’s letter.

Yesterday, Oversight panel spokesman Frederick Hill said Issa sent the letter “because the committee has received documents that raise questions about the veracity of DHS officials’’ on the matter.

He did not elaborate.

Issa asked the agency to provide the documents by Jan. 29.

Homeland Security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last summer, officials said fewer than 500 requests were vetted by political officials. The department received about 103,000 requests for information in a recent 12-month period.

The agency’s directive said political appointees wanted to see Freedom of Information Act requests for “awareness purposes,’’ regardless of who had filed them.

The AP reported that the agency’s career employees were told to provide political appointees with information about who requested documents, where they lived, whether they were reporters, and where they worked.