Court rules Obama adminstration can’t use private email accounts to bypass law

I love the timing: A federal court today ruled that government officials in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) cannot use private email accounts to evade public record laws.

Throughout the case, the government argued that “[d]ocuments on a nongovernmental email server are outside the possession or control of federal agencies, and thus beyond the scope of FOIA.”

Judge David Sentelle, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, disagreed with that reasoning and ordered the lower court to reconsider the case. “If a department head can deprive the citizens of their right to know what his department is up to by the simple expedient of maintaining his departmental emails on an account in another domain, that purpose is hardly served,” Sentelle wrote. “It would make as much sense to say that the department head could deprive requestors of hard-copy documents by leaving them in a file at his daughter’s house and then claiming that they are under her control,” he said.

This absurd rulling, which says that government officials have to follow the law, will surely be overturned. We can’t have these saints oppressed by things as evil as the law.

Congress has slashed the budget of John Holdren’s White House Science Office

The Senate/House final deal for the White House Science Office has slashed its budget by one third.

Frustrated that White House officials [i.e. John Holdren] have ignored congressional language curtailing scientific collaborations with China, legislators have decided to get their attention through a 32% cut in the tiny budget of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

See this story for more background.

White House officials held talks with China over technology, despite a law banning such talks

The law is such an inconvenient thing: White House officials held technology talks with China, despite a law banning such talks.

In [a General Accountability Office (GAO)] letter, Gibson said OSTP officials violated U.S. law by participating in May in bilateral discussions with Chinese officials in spite of a language included in a 2011 spending bill enacted in April that specifically prohibited such talks. GAO concluded that OSTP officials violated the Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits U.S. government employees from spending money that Congress has not appropriated. “If Congress specifically prohibits a particular use of appropriated funds, any obligation for that purpose is in excess of the amount available,” Gibson wrote in the Oct. 11 letter. In May, OSTP officials spent approximately $3,500 to participate in discussions and a dinner with Chinese government officials, according to the GAO letter.

[Congressman Frank] Wolf (R-Virginia), a vocal critic of China’s human rights policies who also testified at the hearing, inserted the language in the 2011 spending bill barring OSTP and NASA from participating in any bilateral activities with China. “Following the law is not voluntary for administration officials,” Wolf said. [emphasis mine]

Sadly, it appears that this administration does not agree with Wolf, and instead considers the law to be nothing more than vague advice they can ignore at will.

House spending panel cuts John Holdren’s science office budget by 55%

The House spending panel today proposed cutting the budget of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) office, run by John Holdren, by 55%.

“OSTP has chosen to disregard a strong and unambiguous legislative prohibition on bilateral engagement with China or Chinese-owned companies,” says language accompanying the 2012 bill, to be voted on tomorrow by the full appropriations committee. “OSTP’s behavior demonstrates a lack of respect for the policy and oversight roles of the Congress.”

I think the Obama administration is about to discover that ignoring the law as passed by Congress can have bad consequences.