FOIA In Action: Helping Journalists Hold the Government Accountable

American Oversight’s core mission is to drive accountability in government – using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the power of the courts to hold the Trump Administration up to public scrutiny.

We’ve launched 19 investigations and filed over 400 FOIA requests to dozens of departments across the Trump administration.

One of our ongoing projects has been working to identify the political appointees President Trump placed in high-level positions across the government. We filed FOIA requests to nearly two dozen agencies and obtained resumes from the Departments of Education, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The documents we obtained from this investigation have in turn helped journalists at the Washington Post, Politico, MSNBC, and other outlets conduct deeper investigations of these and other questions.

Resumes we received from the Department of Education revealed that civil rights officer Candice Jackson listed harassing Hillary Clinton on her resume among her “top five qualifications.” And, like many of the people who have been appointed under the Trump administration, Jackson doesn’t seem to have significant experience with the policy area she is supposedly managing. Politico reported on Jackson and other Department of Education appointees here:

Trump civil rights official listed Clinton attacks as qualification on resume, August 31, 2017

At the Education Department, Jackson has taken a prominent role helping Education Secretary Betsy DeVos shape federal policy pertaining to protections for transgender students and the handling of campus sexual assault cases. She drew fire in June for telling The New York Times that 90 percent of campus sexual assault cases “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk.’”

On her résumé, Jackson noted that she had steadfastly attacked Hillary Clinton’s “lifelong corruption and hypocritical claim to defend women and children” in ads and videos and brought a “unique perspective due to also being a gay Republican.”

We also confirmed that Lynne Patton, who President Trump put in charge of overseeing the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s largest region, padded her official resume with two schools from which she never graduated. In addition to having no previous experience working in housing, she was put in charge of the New York region – an area where the Trump organization has a significant financial stake. The documents we obtained helped to inform the public via reporting by the Washington Post.

Here is the official résumé of the person Trump put in charge of federal housing in New York, August 18, 2017

“The person President Trump tapped this summer to oversee one of the largest regions under the Department of Housing & Urban Development is a longtime Trump family employee with no experience in housing, according to the one-page résumé Lynne Patton submitted as part of the transition.

Patton began working for Trump’s son Eric in 2009 as the vice president of his foundation and as his primary aide. She oversaw all aspects of his business, charity and personal obligations. That included his home and spousal responsibilities as well as coordinating events.”

The Hill also reported on documents we obtained and found that a number of new appointees at the EPA had ties to the Trump campaign or business and limited experience with environmental issues and policy.

Left says Trump EPA heavy on industry, political insidersSeptember 17, 2017

Some of the individuals have already left the agency, but critics say the resumes show the administration is stacking the EPA with former industry officials as well as Trump and Pruitt political backers, with few environmental experts.

Samantha Dravis, for example, leads the office of policy at the 15,000-person agency, a powerful office that influences many of the major decisions the EPA makes in areas like air and water pollution.

The story is the same at the USDA, where many appointees have limited agriculture experience but have previously worked for Trump in another capacity.  You can see more about these stories in reports that featured American Oversight by Politico and The Rachel Maddow Show.

With Congress unwilling to hold the Trump administration accountable, it is up to all of us as citizens to make sure this kind of information gets out to the public at large.

Part of Investigation: