Greater Secrecy Surrounds Civilian Employees, Suit Says
By Michael J. Sniffen
Breaking a tradition of openness that began in 1816, the Bush administration has without explanation withheld the names and work locations of about 900,000 of its civilian workers, according to a lawsuit filed last week .
"Citizens have a right to know who is working
for the government," said Adina Rosenbaum, attorney for the co-directors
of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group at
Since 1989, TRAC has posted a database on the Internet with the name, work location, salary and job category of all 2.7 million federal civilian workers except those in some law enforcement agencies. The data are often used by reporters and government watchdog groups to monitor policies and detect waste or abuse.
Recently, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility used the database to identify and locate U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists for a survey. Many of the scientists complained of political intervention into their research.
TRAC used the data to monitor the Bush
administration's promise to increase security along the Canadian border after
The New York Daily News used the data to find the
names of guards at a federal detention center where prisoner abuse was alleged.
Another reporter used the information to find the names of Transportation
Security Administration guards assigned to
"Secret governors are incompatible with a free government," the TRAC co-directors wrote the federal Office of Personnel Management on Feb. 2 when the agency withheld the data. "Basic information about the employees who carry out the day-to-day actions of government is critical for meaningful public oversight."
The group's leaders are David Burnham, a former New
York Times reporter who directs TRAC's
Using FOIA, TRAC has obtained the data on compact discs every three months.
The federal government began publicly naming its
employees, their job category, salary and workplace in 1816. The first entry in
the 1816 register was James Madison. He was identified as president of the
Lower on that page were Treasury Department
messenger John Connell, a Marylander who worked in
The last complete data set provided by OPM covered 2003. Since then, all records of civilian employees of the Defense Department have been withheld, and the names and duty locations of about 150,000 other civilian workers were withheld, the lawsuit said. The others work in 650 occupations at 250 agencies including the Federal Trade Commission, the National Park Service and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Gary A. Lukowski, OPM's workforce information manager, wrote TRAC in late 2004 that the agency was reviewing its policy "on disclosure of individual employee records as this relates to the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act."
In the spring, Lukowski forwarded the 2004 discs and noted that the "major change affecting your request is that individual records for the Department of Defense are excluded from the file provided." He told TRAC it would have to request the records from the Pentagon directly.
The lawsuit said that, in violation of the FOIA, OPM did not even mention that another 150,000 names and workplaces had been deleted or why, and that OPM has not responded to requests for an explanation of its new policy.
President James Madison heads the first list of federal employees, published in 1816. The Bush administration is seeking to scale back such disclosures, a research group says in a lawsuit. (Trac Via Associated Press)