A recent Associated Press story detailed the use of private email accounts by some members of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to conduct public business. That’s bad policy, since messages generated on private email accounts are easier to shield from public view — and destroy — than messages generated on government email accounts. For that reason alone, the cause of public transparency stands to suffer.
The Jindal administration’s methods underscore the degree to which emerging technology has given all of us more options for communicating. But when public officials are conducting public business, the key concern should be transparency, regardless of the medium of communication being used.
U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, made much the same point in a recent letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding communication policies in her department. As chairman of the congressional subcommittee, Boustany has oversight over Sebelius and her department.
“Recently, whistleblowers have alleged that political appointees within HHS have been using instant messaging software to communicate with career employees, ostensibly in an effort to circumvent federal law,” Boustany told Sebelius.
In his letter, Boustany asked Sebelius to provide documents related to her department’s written policies on instant messaging by department employees.
Boustany expressed concern that the use of instant messaging by HHS employees might be used to circumvent federal related to archiving and preservation of records of department communication. Given the Obama administration’s inconsistent commitment to government transparency, Boustany’s vigilance on this issue seems warranted.