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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

OPM Bureaucrats Won't Release Salary, Other VIP Data on Nearly Half of Federal Civilian Workforce

Do you know who was the first federal employee whose name, salary and work station was published by the government? It was President James Madison, whose name topped the first register of federal employment, published by direction of Congress in 1816. Madison's salary, by the way, was $25,000 a year.

That first published register of federal employees set the precedent that has been followed ever since, as a practical application of the fundamental truth of democracy that the people have the right to know at a minimum the names, places of work and amount of compensation paid to their public servants.

Making public this basic information about federal employees is essential because, as Madison said, "a popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both."

Now comes word that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which manages the federal civil service, is playing bureaucratic games regarding the release of such data, even though it has routinely made that data public for many years, as it is required to do under federal law.

Thanks to OPM's games, however, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse has been forced to file a federal law suit seeking to compel the release this year. TRAC was joined in the lawsuit by Public Citizen, the non-profit advocacy group associated with consumer crusader and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

OPM claims it is reviewing its previous release policy "as it relates to the Freedom of Information Act." Congress has passed no law recently revising the FOIA or any other federal statute that could possibly be construed to dictate changing the government's nearly 200 years-old policy of releasing such data.

TRAC says OPM is refusing to provide the requested information on 40 percent of the 2.6 million employee career federal civil service, including the 664,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense and employees of more than 250 other federal agencies, representing 650 federal occupations.

Clearly, the bureaucrats in charge at OPM are giving TRAC the run-around, knowing that even if the agency ultimately loses in court - which it will - TRAC will have to spend its resources on legal fees instead of what it usually does, which is analyzing the performance of those same bureaucrats and their colleagues throughout the federal government.

Since OPM has thus far provided no further explanation for the nature or status of its current review, there is no way of knowing the agency's rationale for withholding the data. If it proves to be connected with the Bush administration's post-9/11 tightening of public access to government information that might be of use to terrorists, OPM will be taking a very large step towards discrediting an otherwise common-sense policy.

You can read more on the TRAC suit here.

UPDATE: I Should Have Known

Paul Nielson notes on the State & Local FOI listserv that Government Executive reported more than a year ago that the Pentagon was asking OPM to limit release of CPDF data on DOD civilian employees more than a year ago:

"The March 29 [2004] policy is an expansion of one adopted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that denies FOIA requests about specific Defense employees, or redacts such information when it would be revealed by another request.
"The original policy was implemented, according to an October 2001 memo, 'because of the heightened interest in the personal privacy of [Defense] personnel that is consistent with the increased security awareness demanded in times of national security.'
"The policy was broadened last month to include requests for information from the Central Personnel Data File - the government's repository of statistics about the federal workforce - because FOIA guidelines are used to determine what information from the repository is released, according to the Pentagon spokesman."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but how does making public the name, salary and title of DOD civilians aid al Qaeda?

UPDATE II:

BizzyBlog.com credits Tapscott's Copy Desk with breaking this story ahead of the MSM. Don't know about that, but BizzyBlog thinks there ought to be a Left-Right blogswarm of protest over the DOD/OPM decision to withhold basic information about nearly half of the federal civil service employees.

"This should be a situation where blogs on both sides of the aisle agree - the government owes taxpayers this information," says BizzyBlog.com. Sounds good to me!