Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: vitally important emails responsive to a Congressional subpoena have been wiped out in a computer malfunction, and no backups were made, in blatant violation of federal records laws. No, not the IRS or the EPA, silly. This time the Department of Health and Human Services has been struck by the elusive Homework-Eating Dog, as reported by the Washington Times:
The Obama administration admitted Thursday that it has lost emails from the key official who oversaw the botched federal Obamacare rollout last year, and the health department may have broken the law by failing to report the lost emails to the National Archives.
Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, thought she had saved the emails as official records but now realizes they “might not be retrievable,” the Health and Human Services Department said in a letter to Congress detailing the problem.
At this point, there should be some kind of form letter – maybe cranked off on an old-fashioned mimeograph – for Obama Administration officials to claim subpoenaed documents have been deleted. House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) doesn’t like this excuse any better now that he’s heard it twenty times:
“The Obama administration has lost or destroyed emails for more than 20 witnesses, and in each case, the loss wasn’t disclosed to the National Archives or Congress for months or years, in violation of federal law,” said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, a California Republican who has been leading congressional investigations into IRS targeting and into Obamacare.
Mr. Issa said he only now found out about the lost emails, in a letter from an assistant secretary, despite having issued a subpoena for the documents in October.
“Yet again, we discover that this administration will not be forthright with the American people unless cornered,” Mr. Issa said.
Actually, I think what we’re discovering is a widespread illicit practice – perhaps a bit too widespread to be seen as less than an organized conspiracy – to evade federal records laws by not making proper backups of sensitive correspondence. Longtime observers of the Most Transparent Administration in History will also recall that many of its high officials, including Lois Lerner of the IRS and former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson – have been caught using private email to conduct government business, a deliberate evasion of record-keeping requirements. In fact, nearly every major scandal figure of the Obama years has used private email accounts in this manner; there’s a web of secret back-channel communications flowing between Administration officials.
With that in mind, it’s interesting to notice how routinely they flaunted the requirements to keep backups. It’s as if everyone knew they might one day have to make troublesome correspondence disappear, fast! Do the kind of people who fall into Barack Obama’s orbit just reach that conclusion on their own, or were there some meetings in the early years of this Administration where the big figures were quietly advised to make sure their desktop recycle bins dumped everything into the void? It’s interesting that the mainstream media hasn’t tied all these incidents together into one of their vaunted “narratives” about the pronounced lack of transparency in an Administration that once boasted of how transparent it would be. Oh, wait, that’s right: Democrats. Never mind.
Thus far, HHS hasn’t actually specified any Tavenner emails it would not be able to hand over. It’s just laying the groundwork for that moment when Issa fixes the agency with his icy “you gotta be kidding me” stare:
Aaron Albright, a spokesman for Ms. Tavenner, said the “vast majority” of her emails are likely retrievable and more than 71,000 that have been identified might be responsive to the subpoena.
He said that set of emails has no “significant chronological gaps.”
But HHS didn’t inform the National Archives of the lost emails until Wednesday, a day before the department told Congress.
“Based on a recent analysis of emails (which was completed on July 31, 2014) undertaken in connection with a request from a congressional committee, it appears that most, but not all, of the Administrator’s email records were sent within HHS and therefore were likely saved within HHS records,” Kathleen Cantwell, an HHS records management official, said in an official notification to the Archives.
“While we have not identified any specific emails that we will be unable to retrieve, it is possible that some emails may not be available to HHS, and we are therefore filing this memorandum,” she wrote.
HHS said it didn’t know for sure that records were lost, but it was filing the notice “out of an abundance of caution.”
An abundance of caution that hasn’t existed since October, when the House Oversight subpoenas were issued. I guess they were just super-cautious about becoming super-cautious.
The Washington Times notes that HHS was supposed to be one of the better agencies when it came to designing policies for electronic communications that would conform to federal open records laws. No worries, because now they’ve got an outline for a “plan to prevent record losses in the future, including ensuring training and, eventually, creating a system to automatically store all senior officials’ emails.” You can see why none of that would have occurred to anyone until more than three-quarters of the way through the Obama Administration, because all this newfangled email and chat stuff is so incredibly confusing.
Not only is this stuff about lost emails getting old, but this isn’t the first time Health and Human Services has been accused of stonewalling congressional oversight related to ObamaCare. Last December, House Oversight had to write a letter to then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking her to tell her people to “cease obstructing the Committee’s investigation into the implementation of the Affordable Care Act through Healthcare.gov,” because HHS was threatening private contractors into keeping their lips zipped. We all know ObamaCare was one of the most epic disasters in the history of American government. The Obama Administration’s continuing effort to conceal the details is instructive. As bad as things already look, they’re evidently afraid that if the full story comes out, it will look even worse.