In the latest blow to the Obama administration’s claim to be the “openness administration,” word emerged today that the Department of Labor sought to charge a news organization more than $1 million for information.
According to the Associated Press, which reported today on the widespread use by government officials of secret email accounts, Labor demanded that AP pay $1.03 million for costs the department said were involved in retrieving email addresses for political appointees.
According to the piece:
(The agency) said it needed to pull 2,236 computer backup tapes from its archives and pay 50 people to pore over old records. Those costs included three weeks to identify tapes and ship them to a vendor, and pay each person $2,500 for nearly a month’s work.
But under the department’s own FOIA rules – which it cited in its letter to the AP – it is prohibited from charging news organizations any costs except for photocopies after the first 100 pages. The department said it would take 14 weeks to find the emails if the AP had paid the money . . .
A department spokesman later termed the demand for cash a “mistake” and provided the Associated Press with the email addresses for all Labor appointees confirmed by the Senate. But it would appear demanding such and exorbitant sum to drum up a few email addresses may amount to an effort to create a barrier to the release of information.
The episode suggests that the failure to appreciate the role of the press extends well beyond the White House, which bullies reporters to suppress the news, and the Justice Department, which makes them subject to criminal inquiry for collecting information. It is one of the cardinal rules of journalism that you don’t pay for information, particularly not a sum like $1 million.