– Investigative Reporter Mark Pittman Responsible For Bloomberg News Lawsuit Against The Federal Reserve Dies At 52
– Federal Reserve Seeks Delay of Bank Data Release While Considering Appeal
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Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) — The late Bloomberg News reporter Mark Pittman asked the U.S. Treasury in January 2009 to identify $301 billion of securities owned by Citigroup Inc. that the government had agreed to guarantee. He made the request on the grounds that taxpayers ought to know how their money was being used.
More than 20 months later, after saying at least five times that a response was imminent, Treasury officials responded with 560 pages of printed-out e-mails — none of which Pittman requested. They were so heavily redacted that most of what’s left are everyday messages such as “Did you just try to call me?” and “Monday will be a busy day!”
None of the documents answers Pittman’s request for “records sufficient to show the names of the relevant securities” or the dates and terms of the guarantees. Even so, the U.S. government considers the collection of e-mails a partial response to an official request under the federal Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. The Justice Department in July cited an increase in such responses as evidence that “more information is being released” under the law.
President Barack Obama vowed to usher in a new era of open government. On Jan. 21, 2009, the day after his inauguration and a week before Pittman submitted his FOIA request, Obama directed agencies to “adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA.”
Limits of Transparency
The saga of Pittman’s request shows that the promise of transparency has its limits when it comes to the government’s intervention in the financial industry, which at its peak reached $12.8 trillion in commitments. From the 2008 Bear Stearns Cos. rescue to the Federal Reserve’s policy of quantitative easing in 2010, the Obama administration has delayed disclosures and defended its right to secrecy in court, said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch Inc., which describes itself as a conservative foundation.
“This is an unprecedented crisis for open government,” said Fitton, whose Washington-based organization sued the Bush administration more than 200 times over disclosure issues. “When it comes to the bank bailout, the Obama administration has made a decision to err on the side of secrecy.”
The Justice Department, which oversees disclosure for the executive branch, is “working specifically to encourage agencies to be as transparent as possible and release as much as possible,” said Melanie Ann Pustay, director of the department’s Office of Information Policy. “We view our efforts as an ongoing process.”
Read moreTransparency: US Treasury Shields Citigroup as Deletions Undercut Disclosure