Deputy Chief FOIA Officer at Department of Interior Admits Issue with Secretary Bernhardt’s Calendars Being Deleted
Washington, D.C. (Mar.13, 2019)—At today’s hearing before the Committee on Oversight and Reform on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Rachel Spector, the Acting Deputy Chief FOIA Officer at the Department of the Interior, admitted being aware of an issue with Acting Secretary David Bernhardt’s calendar being deleted.
Press reports indicate that there are significant holes in Acting Secretary Bernhardt’s calendars, and he claimed he does not personally keep a calendar or believe he is required to do so.
The Federal Records Act requires Acting Secretary Bernhardt and the Department to preserve any record of his official activities including his calendars. If his calendars are being deleted, it raises significant concerns with whether he is complying with the law and providing an accurate and transparent accounting of how Department policies are being shaped.
Click here to watch the Chairman Cummings Question Line video.
Below is the exchange Ms. Spector had with Chairman Elijah E. Cummings:
Chairman Cummings: Ms. Spector, significant concerns have been raised about a lack of transparency in the meetings held by Acting Secretary David Bernhardt. On February 28, 2019, Mr. Bernhardt sent a letter to Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva and this is what he said: “I have inquired with the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor and have been advised that I have no legal obligation to personally maintain a calendar. Further, no Agency guidance exists recommending that I create or retain one. I have not personally maintained a calendar for years, and I have no intention of suddenly doing so now.” Is this true? Does Acting Secretary Bernhardt not keep a calendar of his meetings and activities?
Ms. Spector: I was not involved in providing legal advice around this issue, but I am aware that the Secretary Bernhardt’s calendars—that there are calendars that we proactively post on our website—just as we did with Secretary Zinke’s calendars because the public is interested in that information and we received more than three FOIA requests for that material, so we proactively posted on the website.
Chairman Cummings: Well, Acting Secretary Bernhardt also wrote: “Numerous people create calendar entries on what can be labeled my calendar to maintain a schedule for the organization of daily appointments, both personal and official.” How are appointments added to the Secretary’s schedule? Do you know?
Ms. Spector: I am speculating, I think it’s probably pretty accurate I assume that his Administrative Assistant and other support staff provide that function for him.
Chairman Cummings: Who at the Department has the ability to add appointments to the schedule of the Acting Secretary?
Ms. Spector: I’m familiar with that process.
Chairman Cummings: You don’t know?
Ms. Spector: I don’t know.
Chairman Cummings: Is there a calendar for the Acting Secretary that gets deleted at the end of each day? Do you know that?
Ms. Spector: I don’t know that.
Chairman Cummings: Is it possible this is happening and you do not know about it? That is, the deletion of the calendar or the entries.
Ms. Spector: I have some familiarity with the issue that you are raising and understand that the Solicitor’s office in the Department is working with the records officer in the Department to determine what’s occurred there and whether it’s consistent.
Chairman Cummings: How long have you been in this position you’re in?
Ms. Spector: For two months, sir.
Chairman Cummings: Has any Interior employee ever been tasked with recreating the calendar of the Acting Secretary by piecing together drafts of Google documents or using other records of meetings?
Ms. Spector: Not to my knowledge.
Chairman Cummings: Has any Interior employee ever been told to stop recreating the calendar of the Acting Secretary?
Ms. Spector: Again, not to my knowledge.
Chairman Cummings: How do you respond to FOIA requests for information about meetings attended by Acting Secretary Bernhardt?
Ms. Spector: Precisely the way we do to all FOIA requests. They are processed on a general matter on a first in, first out basis. And, the one distinction is with calendars that there has been so much public interest in those materials for our senior officials that many are posted—affirmatively posted—on our website.
Chairman Cummings: Whose records do you search to respond to requests about the Acting Secretary’s calendar?
Ms. Spector: Again, I don’t specifically know the answer because I haven’t performed that task. But, I assume that it is his electronic calendar entries that are prepared by his administrative staff.
Chairman Cummings: CNN reported last week that the calendars posted on the website of the Department of the Interior are missing information. For example, a meeting on the schedule posted for Acting Secretary Bernhardt for September 22, 2017, includes an entry that says, “A Meeting to Discuss Energy Issues.” It lists no attendees.
However, CNN reported that Interior visitor logs show that the Acting Secretary actually signed in Jack Gerard, then-CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.
Are you aware of any other calendars or calendar entries posted on the website of the Department for Acting Secretary Bernhardt or any senior official that are missing information?
Ms. Spector: No, I am not.
Chairman Cummings: Every senior official, including Acting Secretary Bernhardt, should be making and preserving a transparent record of their meetings and other activities so that the American people know who is influencing government policies.