The Labor Department's Selective Transparency

President Obama in the opening days of his term made a showing of mandating openness in government.  He even stated, “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset.”  He then directed department heads to implement his Open Government Directive.  While this sounds good, what raises concern is the selective transparency with which his administration operates.

In response to the Open Government Directive, the Department of Labor (DOL) created a searchable online enforcement database.  A review of the database revealed that despite its purported purpose to disclose all of the Department’s enforcement data, the union corruption data from the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) was conveniently excluded.

To find out why the union corruption data was not included, Americans for Limited Government (ALG) sent Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIA) on August 12, 2010 to nine different agencies and offices within the DOL.  In these requests we asked for detailed information regarding the database.

After a four month wait, we received a packet from the Office of Assistant Secretary for Administrative & Management.  The packet contained various email communications between a numerous agencies and offices within the DOL discussing the development of the searchable enforcement database.  These communications confirmed that the database was supposed to include all DOL enforcement agencies.  For instance, in a July 31, 2009 email the Assistant Secretary for Policy at Labor stated the purpose of the database:

The Department of Labor is working with the Office of Open Government to ensure that the President’s commitment to providing an unprecedented level of openness in Government is achieved.  One of the Department’s first open government initiatives will be to provide greater transparency into the enforcement and compliance data collected and maintained by DOL agencies.

The goal will be to post all the Department’s enforcement and compliance data on the Internet, which are legally permissible to share with the public, in a way that allows the user to search across DOL agencies.  (Emphasis added.)

This notion is also expressed on the enforcement database website itself:

The Department of Labor enforcement agencies foster and promote the welfare of wage earners and retirees of the United States, by ensuring their safety, improving their working conditions, and protecting their retirement and health care benefits.  In carrying out this mission, the Agencies administer and enforce a variety of Federal labor laws… This site aims to make the enforcement data, collected by these agencies in the exercise of their mission, accessible and searchable… by the public.

Here we find another case of the Obama administration’s selective transparency.  We note from the FOIA results that despite all agencies involved in the correspondence, only five are featured on the DOL Enforcement database website.  Furthermore, OLMS was completely overlooked.    Since OLMS is responsible for administering and enforcing most provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, its enforcement data should be included in the public enforcement database as well.  Yet in all the correspondence surrounding its development, DOL failed to include or even mention OLMS.  This is remarkable especially since Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis reorganized the Department so that OLMS reports directly to her.

Given Sec. Solis’ recent comments about protecting unions it isn’t surprising that she is hiding union corruption data.  But this shouldn’t be the case.

The Department should post all enforcement data, not just that data that doesn’t embarrass its leaders’ supporters.

Crossposted at NetRight Daily