May 14, 2012

Does Michael Astrue Realize That Dick Cheney No Longer Controls Federal Information Policy?

     I have heard a report that since Social Security adopted a policy of keeping the identity of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) holding a hearing a secret until the day of the hearing that Social Security has received a large number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the identity of the ALJ holding a specific hearing. I have some familiarity with the FOIA and I have trouble imagining any basis that Social Security would have for withholding that information. However, Social Security will inevitably stall on these requests until after the hearings have been held, rendering the FOIA requests pointless. This appears to me to contradict Obama Administration policy.
     On his first full day in office, Barack Obama issued a memorandum to the heads of all federal departments and agencies, including Social Security, stating that "The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. ...All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure ... Disclosure should be timely...." This was a response to extraordinarily secretive Bush Administration policies, reportedly initiated by Dick Cheney. Under Obama's directive, the Attorney General was to issue further FOIA instructions. Those instructions state that "...[A]gencies should make it a priority to respond in a timely manner. Timely disclosure of information is an essential component of transparency. Long delays should not be viewed as an inevitable and insurmountable consequence of high demand."
      Is the "secret ALJ" policy in accordance with Obama Administration policy? Is intentional delay in responding to simple FOIA requests for the identity of the ALJ holding a hearing in accordance with Obama Administration policy?

     Update: By the way, you can make an FOIA request online. How would Social Security deal with thousands of such requests?


Anonymous said...

Mr Astrue has a problem following executive orders. He has yet to implement EO 13522 which states that labor and management work together in order to produce a better product for the public. Doesn't Mr. Astrue work for President Obama?

Anonymous said...

Those who regularly litigate on this issue may find that the Privacy Act (i.e., tell me what ALJ is deciding my particular case vs. a general FOIA requesting disclosure of ALJs) is broader that the FOIA. In either case, attorney fees can be awarded in litigation if the Agency does not comply with the very short timelines.