Nearly a month ago, in an October 17th email to all State Department employees, Rex Tillerson announced his decision to ramp up FOIA processing to clear a backlog of requests. As part of the new effort, Tillerson set an ambitious—some say implausible—goal of clearing the massive backlog by the end of 2017.
Of course, while more transparency, rather than less, from government entities is generally considered a positive thing, the army of Clinton loyalists still occupying career positions at the State Department are suddenly concerned about efforts to speed the disclosure of documents from the Clinton era and say it's nothing more than a political witch hunt. From Politico:
Tillerson says his goal is transparency. But many State workers fear the real reason is political: expediting the public release of thousands of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s official emails.
"It's a remarkable misuse of resources to advance what is at its core a partisan political aim," one affected State employee said. "We all know what's going on. And, of course, we're all unhappy that we're being made a part of it."
Tillerson’s email, among other things, said the department’s FOIA backlog stretches back roughly a decade...ironically, that's about how long ago Hillary Clinton took over as Secretary of State...though we're certain that's just a coincidence.
According to Judicial Watch, the State Department has yet to process around 40,000 pages of at least 72,000 records which contain Clinton emails. However, State Department officials have indicated they believe that many of those still-unreleased documents are duplicates of information already shared with the public.
The issue spotlights the deepening distrust towards Tillerson at Foggy Bottom, where his attempts to restructure the department, cut its budget and centralize policy-making have already hurt morale. But it is drawing applause from conservative groups, who have been pressuring Tillerson to act on a backlog of 13,000 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests — many of them relating to emails and other records from Clinton’s tenure.
“We haven't understood why there's been a slow-walking of releasing records, and we've been quite public in counseling the administration to take an approach of extreme transparency,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative activist group that has sued the Trump administration for more Clinton documents.
“It looks like someone's listening,” Fitton added.
Still while many State Department employees view Tillerson's transparency push as a smear campaign targeted at Clinton, others view it as an attempt to increase natural attrition at the department by assigning senior-level employees to menial FOIA duty.
As we've noted before, Tillerson has said he wants to cut at least 2,300 State Department employees through a combination of buyouts and attrition. That said, buyouts are expensive and natural attrition from cushy government positions can be difficult to come by without the right "catalyst"...
The staffers also suspect the move — which will reassign many of them from far more substantive duties and has already sparked a union complaint — is meant to force many of them to resign out of frustration with what are essentially clerical positions.
Current and former career diplomats scoff at such talk. They say the real story is Tillerson’s contempt for a State Department workforce he sees as bloated, and one which President Donald Trump views as a Democratic stronghold loyal to Clinton, who served as secretary of state from 2009-2013.
While many of the people assigned to open-records duty are lower-level staffers and interns, some have previously held prestigious posts, helping shape U.S. foreign policy and engaging in high-level diplomacy.
"Nothing better illustrates the view of the Trump administration that U.S. diplomats are nothing more than overpaid clerks," said Thomas Countryman, a retired career foreign service officer who served as assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration.
So what say you? Is Tillerson's transparency push all about attacking Clinton or slashing the State Department headcount...perhaps a bit of both?