A controversial federal agency subject to little congressional oversight has advised its employees to include minimal details about agency events on work calendars that are subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.
In a flier circulated to employees and obtained by the government watchdog group Cause of Action, the bureau’s FOIA office instructs employees to “keep your calendar entries brief and general.”
The guidance has some observers concerned that the agency is instructing its employees to be more opaque in its daily operations.
“Transparency is at the core of our agenda, and it is a key part of how we operate,” states the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on its website. “You deserve to know what the new bureau is doing for the American public and how we are doing it.”
But the bureau, which was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, has specifically advised its employees to take steps that would shield significant details about their activities from public scrutiny.
“If possible, avoid annotating entries with agendas, detail discussions, etc.,” the CFPB flier states.
It also advises employees to “minimize attachments to your calendar appointments” and to “consider using email to send related attachments.”
Cause of Action said the guidance makes the bureau less transparent by instructing CFPB employees to shield information from FOIA requests.
“These calendar tips undoubtedly make it easier for the bureau’s FOIA staff to process any requested calendars,” the group wrote on its website.
“They also undermine the administration’s asserted commitment to ‘creating an unprecedented level of openness in government,’” Cause of Action added.
The release of the flier comes days after a New York City legal services corporation, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, appealed the CFPB’s decision to withhold information from a recent FOIA request.
Other groups have been forced to sue the CFPB to obtain information requested through the FOIA process.
Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, which sued the bureau for information regarding the appointment of its head, Richard Cordray, said the bureau’s refusal to turn over the information was emblematic of the administration’s opacity.
“Given the Obama administration’s penchant for secrecy, I am not at all surprised we have to file a lawsuit to obtain these records on this scandalous appointment,” Fitton said in a statement.
Critics of the CFPB say it is by its nature less transparency than other federal agencies due to a lack of statutory congressional oversight.
The bureau did not respond to a request for comment.