Watchdog: Accountability

Consumer agency FOIA officers help employees hide work calendars

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Watchdog,Richard Pollock,CFPB,Accountability,Transparency,FOIA

Freedom of information officers at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are telling employees there how to hide their work calendars from public disclosure, according to a watchdog group.

The agency is required to comply with the federal Freedom of Information Act, but the group Cause of Action obtained a list of tips drawn up by CFPB's FOIA office to its federal workforce, titled “Recommended Calendar Do's and Don'ts.”

The tips warn CFPB employees that they are barred by law from changing calendar entries that have been requested under the FOIA.

“You may not revise or delete entries on your calendar once they become subject to a FOIA request, subpoena, or Congressional request,” the FOIA officials said in the tips.

The bureau’s FOIA officers advised CFPB's 1,200 employees to “minimize attachments to your calendar appointments" and "consider using email to send related attachments.”

The FOIA office also advised its employees to “avoid annotating entries with agendas, detailed discussions.” Those materials would be covered by an FOIA request for the calendar entry.

Cause for Action said the tips "undermine [President Obama's] asserted commitment to creating ‘an unprecedented level of openness in government.’"

That commitment was made in an executive order signed by Obama on his first day in office.

"Transparency is at the core of our agency," CFPB claims on its website, saying, "You deserve to know what the new bureau is doing for the American public and how we are doing it."

But that statement flies in the face of CFPB Director Richard Cordray's testimony during a Tuesday congressional hearing on the bureau's extensive data-mining of consumers private financial information.

Cordray told the House Financial Services Committee that he would bar the public and members of Congress from meetings of CFPB’s four advisory committees.

The 2010 federal Dodd-Frank Act exempts CFPB from the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act, which mandates openness for all federal advisory meetings.

Cordray's comments came in response to questions from Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., during the hearing.

Pittenger asked Cordray if “in the spirit of transparency, will you commit yourself now to at least some portion of these meetings being held for the public and permitting congressional representatives to be there?"

Pittenger added that lawmakers have tried in vain to attend the advisory meetings. “We requested to be there in the past, and we were denied those requests.”

But Cordray declined, saying, “We are not covered by the Federal Advisory Committee Act.”

Pittenger was not satisfied. “Will you commit yourself to more openness to allow the public to review what takes place in these meetings?"

“They cannot be made public,” the CFPB director replied. “I don’t think it works for us to do that, sir,” he said.

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