The “most transparent administration in history” has struck again.
This time it was the Department of Labor, which tried to charge the Associated Press more than $1 million for providing a list of secret email addresses of political appointees.
The excuse was that the Department would have to pull some 2,200 computer backup tapes from storage, pay 50 people to go over them, identify the correct tapes and ship them to a vendor, a process which would take about three weeks and require paying each person around $2,500. The vendor would then take several more weeks.
First, some math. Paying 50 people $2,500 for three weeks’ work adds up to $125,000. Assuming the needed information will actually only be on about a dozen tapes, then shipping should be negligible. If you paid the vendor similarly to the government workers, add another $125,000. It should be less because that’s why government gets vendors, right? To cut costs, not pad budgets?
There aren’t going to be that many appointees in one department confirmed by the Senate, which has important issues like the name of the Redskins to attend to, so figure on the outside about 10 pages of email addresses when all is said and done, at a photocopying cost of $37,500 per page. Slap on a $375,000 stamp to send it to the Associated Press and, sure, you can see how it would cost over a million simolians for some email addresses.
Ah, you might say, let us not forget these are secret email addresses necessary for government business, not because political appointees would want to hide anything, like say a taxpayer-funded subscription to World of Warcraft.
Yes, they are secret, which means when you send an email to those publicly advertised addresses about some desperately needed assistance in resolving an issue, the chances are great that it will sit unread amid all the spam about refinancing loans and hooking up with bored young housewives in your area.
Now, I’m no expert, but I think I know my way around computer systems, and I have never heard of a network where the head techie and top brass did not have a complete mailing list of everyone in the building. Realistically, that million-dollar search probably could have been handled by a techie leaning into someone’s office and saying, “Hey Bob, send a copy of your email address list to the big cheese at AP.”
But even if the government is so lame that no one in the Labor Department has a complete list, it still wouldn’t take a skilled techie very long to set up a systemwide search for unique email addresses ending in dot-bollux.gov or whatever Labor’s proprietary secret address is. Email users probably have different security levels, so you could even filter by access grades.
Any way you slice it, it sounds like an afternoon’s worth of work for one, maybe two, people. Give it a full day if the system’s design is twitchy or unusually baroque.
Looming over all this, however, is the fact that under the Freedom of Information Act, Labor is legally only allowed to charge for photocopies after the first 100 pages, no other costs.
After Labor was called on the shakedown, a spokesman termed the demand for cash a “mistake.”
And despite the alleged up-to-14-week process required, he also provided a list — perhaps he had one in his back pocket.
If the government wasn’t known to be so trustworthy, it might almost sound like the “most transparent administration in history,” as President Obama called it in February, was trying to hide something by manipulating press access to officials.