WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee lashed out against senior State Department official Joyce Barr over former secretary of state and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of emails on a personal server.
Barr, assistant secretary of state for the bureau of administration, who testified with other federal officials, said she wasn’t sure if the use of personal emails by Clinton was allowed during her time as the nation’s top diplomat.
“I don’t have specific information on that,” Barr said in response to a question form Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who asked why the State Department waited two years after Clinton left office to request official email records from her and previous secretaries of state.
Barr said the State Department was taking Clinton’s word that it received all of the emails that were initially requested in October.
Her response was unsatisfactory to Republican committee members.
“I just don’t understand why we should tolerate the poor record of response by agencies like the State Department,” Cornyn said.
Every year, the Center for Effective Government releases a report that grades all federal agencies on how they respond to requests for information from the news media and the public.
In its latest report in March, the organization gave the State Department an “F” grade.
Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said, “There’s much room for improvement.”
“Out of over 1 billion emails sent by agency employees in 2011, just over 61,000 of those were properly archived,” Grassley said. “And it’s impossible not to acknowledge former Secretary Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email account to conduct official State Department business.”
Cornyn said Clinton’s actions bypass the Freedom of Information Act, which is meant to give the public and the press open access to records and procedures of federal agencies.
Barr, the State Department’s FOIA enforcer, said the use of emails with a private server is not acceptable, and her office, under Secretary of State John Kerry, is taking steps to improve how it handles FOIA requests.
Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a non-profit organization that has sent as many as 50,000 FOIA requests to federal agencies, said that updates to the FOIA law are a good idea.
“Right now, when you click to the FOIA website, it just sends you to a bunch of links,” Blanton said. “That just doesn’t work.”
Grassley and the committee’s senior Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, agreed that FOIA needs to be improved through bipartisan effort.
“This committee has a long tradition of working across the aisle when acting to protect the public’s right to know, during both Democratic and Republican administrations,” Leahy said.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said Congress has been slow to modernize federal law that relates to government records.
“It strikes me that this is one of many instances in which federal law lags behind the technology,” Franken said.
FOIA was first signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967.
In 2007, a bill to amend FOIA was signed into law by President George W. Bush. It created the Office of Government Information Services, which mediates requests made to federal agencies by members of the press.
A bill to grant the office more autonomy was passed by the Senate last year, but not by the House.
Reach reporter Flavio Del Pino at [email protected] or 202-408-1489. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits to SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
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