October 1, 2018

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke seems to now be more secretive about who he meets with than he was just a few months ago, raising questions about whether other cabinet secretaries have maintained transparency in their public schedules, or followed Zinke’s lead.

CREW filed five Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Department of the Treasury, Small Business Administration, Department of Commerce, Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Education requesting calendar records for two-day periods in July to compare disclosed records with what is already publicly known about the secretaries’ schedules on those days. If there is an effort in the Cabinet to curb transparency about schedules and who is meeting with the leaders of these agencies, the public deserves to know.

A review of Zinke’s calendars that have been posted on the Interior Department’s website reveals that more recently posted documents contain far less detail than those previously posted. For example, calendars from March 2018, contain considerably more detail than those posted for May and June 2018. The more recent entries contain far more general descriptions such as “external meeting” instead of identifying with the others in the meeting. This lack of detail raises the concern that the Interior Department has altered Zinke’s calendars to avoid full transparency that disclosure under should bring. These FOIA requests follow two requests CREW filed with the Interior Department for records about their calendar policies, as well as calendars for two days in July.

The requested records from these other five agencies will shed light on whether other Cabinet secretaries have become similarly secretive with their meetings. A detailed version of these five secretaries’ calendars will provide transparency and with it, the means to hold cabinet officials accountable.

Here are the FOIA requests:

Secretary Wilbur Ross, Department of Commerce
Secretary Linda McMahon, Small Business Administration
Secretary Ben Carson, Department of Housing and Urban Development
Secretary Betsy DeVos, Department of Education
Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Department of the Treasury

Update: On October 2, 2018 HUD sent a letter denying CREW’s request for fee waiver. arguing that CREW failed to “identify[] the public interest to be served” in its FOIA request, and therefore failed to meet the criteria for fee waiver as required by statute. CREW appealed the decision, asserting that the denial contravenes both the law and the facts and appears to be yet another part of a pattern and practice by HUD to unlawfully deny CREW fee waivers under the FOIA. Read CREW’s appeal here.