Want to know how the Trump administration’s border enforcement is going? Be prepared to wait, and to fight, for transparency, reports Dana Liebelson for the Huffington Post. Plus in this week’s roundup, how FOIA shows potential retaliation, discomfort with surveillance, and a chance to dig into your town’s finances.
See a great use of public records we missed? Send over your favorite FOIA stories via email, on Twitter, or on Facebook, and maybe we’ll include them in the next roundup. And if you’d like even more inspiration, read past round ups.
Officials pushed back - and then got pushed out
Eric Lipton, Kenneth P. Vogel, and Lisa Friedman reported how a number of officials in the EPA pushed back against agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s spending and management — only to be demoted or sidelined. Bolstering unnamed stories were documents obtained through public records requests:
Yet the revelations about his staff turnover, which have not been previously reported, demonstrate that concerns about his spending and leadership resonated within his own team well before they became the subject of media reports and investigations by the E.P.A. inspector general and the White House.
Agency records obtained through open-records requests show the critical role that Mr. Allen, Mr. Chmielewski and Mr. Reeder played in reviewing Mr. Pruitt’s travel plans. In some instances, several agency officials said, pushback by the officials prevailed.
The reporting also highlights what the documents don’t tell:
Other memos released through the open-records law show that Mr. Allen handled requests for renovations to Mr. Pruitt’s office. “I spoke to Gayle and we can proceed as it is not part of the $5,000,” read an email to Mr. Allen in April 2017, as staff members were being pressed to find a way to spend more on office renovations than was allowed under federal guidelines. In this case, the expenditure involved a biometric lock and was not counted against Mr. Pruitt’s furniture budget. “Approved,” Mr. Allen wrote back.
The documents do not reflect the behind-the-scenes friction between Mr. Pruitt and the senior officials, but several agency staff members said in interviews that they avoided putting objections into writing because they suspected there would ultimately be an investigation into the matters.
Read the full story at the New York Times.
Surveillance company not happy being watched
Camille Fassett reports on the response to our project with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to request information on how license plate data is shared around the country. While thousands have shown interest in the project, one company is not too happy: Vigilant Systems, the company that makes the surveillance technology and brokers the data sharing. Fassett reports:
“We know you are experiencing an onslaught of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Public Records Act (PRA) requests by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and MuckRock regarding your use of our license plate reader (LPR) technology,” the email sent to the City of Pleasanton reads. “We write this letter to let you know, quite simply, that we are here for you.”
“In short, they are attempting to scare individuals into hitting one of the countless “Contribute” or “Donate” buttons on their website,” it reads.
EFF and MuckRock are both nonprofit organizations. Vigilant Solutions’ contracts with many individual police departments are valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. Its $350,000 contract with the City of Austin is nearly double the total annual budget of MuckRock.
Fassett is a reporter for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, an early MuckRock funder.
Immigration transparency on ICE
U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have never had great reputations when it comes to transparency, but Dana Liebelson reports for Huffington Post that things seem to be getting worse under the Trump administration.
Under FOIA, agencies are also supposed to put frequently requested information online. With certain documents related to issues like the travel ban or separating families at the border, “they should just post that on their websites, it shouldn’t even be a FOIA process because you know that’s what people want,” said Ron Nixon, The New York Times’ homeland security correspondent.
Melissa del Bosque, an investigative reporter who has covered the U.S.-Mexico border since 1998, said journalists face significant obstacles shedding light on Trump’s immigration policies, as more and more people are put in detention.
“We’re just going to see a lot more abuse, hunger strikes, people with much, much longer detention sentences probably, who haven’t had their cases heard yet … and it’ll be harder and harder for us as journalists to find them, or to be able to document their stories,” del Bosque said.
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Image by Gerald L. Nino via Wikimedia Commons