Squeezing public documents from federal officials hasn’t been easy for me under any administration. But, like many journalists, advocacy groups and members of the public, I’ve found out the hard way that the Obama administration has taken obstruction and secrecy to new heights.
From the moment Health and Human Services falsely denied it was tracking enrollment numbers in the early disastrous days of HealthCare.gov, to HHS keeping secret the details of the security risks it discovered prior to–and after–the website’s launch, to HHS excluding journalists from viewing–but inviting favored private interests to view–the repair operations in progress, I’ve been seeking much of this undeniably public information.
I began filing simple Freedom of Information requests regarding HealthCare.gov in October of 2013. Under the law, with few exceptions, such requests are to be filled within just a few weeks. In my experience, they never are. They languish for months and years until the story for which documents are sought is long over. Even if one files a lawsuit to force the government to follow the law, the court cases can be time-consuming and so the government’s stall tactics are still effective. That’s one reason why journalists often don’t bother to sue.
One entity that has had a great deal of success in suing the federal government for improperly denying FOI requests is the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch. They have full time FOI expert attorneys on staff and have no problem holding the government’s feet to the fire on improperly withheld public documents. One example is Fast and Furious. Another is Benghazi. They have even had more success, at times, than Congress in getting sought after materials.
With the help of Judicial Watch’s experts, I have filed suit against HHS for the HealthCare.gov documents that belong to the public. The day I filed suit, HHS informed Congress that it had apparently deleted some HealthCare.gov documents Congress and I are seeking. If federal officials have irrevocably destroyed key emails, even a court cannot order them materialized out of thin air. But perhaps a court can help get to the bottom of what occurred.
It doesn’t hurt to try.