My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Freedom of Information? Hardly. Access denied!

Some months ago, after I received credible reports that Census Bureau employees were staying at Ritz Carleton hotels while on official biz, I wanted to know the extent of such spending sprees. I filed a Freedom of Information Act request and waited many, many months to hear back about its status. Today, I was fed up. I e-mailed Grant Book, the (presumably young) Commerce Department lawyer whose job it is to keep telling me “wait longer or sue us for the information.” Now, I’m not in the business of lawsuits, so I choose to wait for the info. Today, Mr. Book told me that my “final response” was sent out on June 22. I am 100% certain that this response never reached my inbox, as I searched for it repeatedly. Either way, here’s what the response looks like. The outcome: Negative. The trend toward increased government transparency continues…not! (And I’ve never seen so many court cases cited in my life for denying a FOIA request) Here it is, in all its glory:

The Commerce Department says “No” to my request for information.

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13 Responses to “Freedom of Information? Hardly. Access denied!”

  1. Anon Says:

    Stephen, you are increasingly becoming more incompetent or you are playing the role of the demagogue again. Who in their right mind would think that a request for “all hotels” organized by hotel, price, duration, employee name and position would be easy? I think the $20k is justified based on duplication fees alone, but you failed to understand that and the process apparently. Maybe you made up the ridiculous request to somehow prove a point. To bad you are now costing the government more money by doing so. Ironic.

    FAIL

  2. JAG Says:

    So what is your beef? Are you saying that government employees shouldn’t stay at the Ritz or do you allege they spent more than the $110 allotted for stay? Did you even try calling the Ritz hotel and ask them what the government rate was? If they paid $110 to stay at the Ritz, would you have felt better if they stayed at the Holiday Inn and got a free breakfast and free wifi for the same money? Would you have felt better if they traveled to DC and spent double the money in lodging?

  3. Laney Says:

    Didn’t you also claim you were never contacted about the recent press conference, but several posters said they had received notification? Perhaps you should search harder, or check your spam folder.

    You may also want to cool it with the passive-aggressive barbs. “Presumably young” – is that supposed to be an insult? That’s the second time you have described him this way. Ever considered that maybe it’s your rude and unprofessional attitude, coupled with your outlandish requests, that make people reluctant to grant you every single little thing you want right away? I know you seem to consider yourself a beacon of “investigative journalism” (although it appears that 99% of your posts are just links to articles by actual journalists), but if every little blog out there was requesting thousands of pages of information that would need hundreds of hours of manpower to complete. Well – tax dollars at work, and all.

    Besides, you said in your previous post about this matter, “Case closed.” So what exactly is it that you’re looking for?

  4. Solong Census Says:

    Census employees, like all other government employees can and should stay in hotels that offer government rates. That is not the issue. The issue is the perception given to the public when the Census Bureau pays a small amount of wage to the lower level of the decennial operation that does the majority of the work and then spends to put up the upper levels at lavish hotels and resorts. The Los Angeles Region put up the Regional Managers and all the LCOMs at a Manhattan Beach Resort for a meeting.

    All of this is paid by the taxpayers, the public and, if for nothing else, other than the message it sends to the field employees and the public, the Census Bureau should be more prudent. There are prudent, smart government agencies that do not set up their managers in lavish hotels and resorts least they become a topic and exposed on 60 Minutes in prime time.

  5. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    @Laney: I never did receive the notification and Michael Cook of the Census Bureau acknowledged that the e-mail of a former intern of mine was on the list rather than my e-mail. She hasn’t worked for me since early February, so I am pretty surprised that my e-mail was not on the list when I receive many other Census Bureau e-mails about stats and figures.

  6. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    @Jag: I don’t know how much they paid, how many delegates they brought with them to each hotel, and how many nights they stayed. If you want to call every hotel in America to find out the answer, I’d be happy to publish your findings.

  7. Solong Census Says:

    Just a a final note. Although you may not agree with SRM’s tactics and “rants” there is a problem here with the Census Bureau. Don’t blow smoke to cover the problem by focusing on SRM, you are not going to change SRM or the objective of his blog. Keep in mind, as is stated clearly, this is a “watch dog” blod. Focus on finding the truth. There are always two sides to an issue. The truth lies somewhere in between. This blog provides signposts as to where the problems lie. There have been enough signposts throughout the past months to indicated serious problems with the decennial census and its managers. I often get a sense that some who post on this blog are census operatives trying to cover up the problems.

  8. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    @solong – our analytics show that approximately 25% of readers access the site through census bureau servers.

  9. anonymous Says:

    I BELIEVE IT!!!

    Yes, many Census employees in my LCO have been secretly (and openly) reading the My Two Census Blog for months! Thank you Stephen and MyTwoCensus absolutely wonderful journalists!

  10. anonymous Says:

    If somenone has anything negative to say about my posts, then you can KISS MY ASS!!!

  11. Anon Says:

    “@Jag: I don’t know how much they paid, how many delegates they brought with them to each hotel, and how many nights they stayed. If you want to call every hotel in America to find out the answer, I’d be happy to publish your findings.”

    When did this go from Ritz hotels to every hotel in America?! and who is “They”?

    Do we honestly think that the FOIA request in question was not over baked? Come on. Go back and read the PDF from top to bottom. They make him look like a fool. I think there is a better way around the problem if he is going after the Ritz hotel truth (which I do advocate for, btw).

    For example:
    Hot tip off the street (say today) – Employees are/were staying at the Ritz recently. Great! Do you A) request every last travel document for all employees + all hotels + all dates + special tabulation or B) request names dates costs and hotel locations of recent stays at Ritz hotels only (recent being June and July)?

    I think B would be the best choice…Not only are the duplication fees a little more reasonable, but we would have found the truth a lot faster, allowing us to either bitch about employees staying at the Ritz above and beyond per diem or squashing the tip as a lie.

    See my point? If SRM is about the proving of Ritzgate, there is a better way to get there from here. Since SRM is obviously a smart guy and understands this (see FOIA request 10-255), I stand by my assertion that in this case he cares less about finding fact and is doing this more for show.

    Request 10-163 (All technical and information technology glitches, failures, and errors …) is a good example of a fishing expedition that will come with a large fee.

  12. JAG Says:

    SRM,

    You don’t know the cost or how many travelers there where? Go to the top of this page and click the link you provided to your original post. It says there were 12 travelers spending the government rate….”case closed” as you described it. You say the Ritz situation prompted your request. My point is, you could have called the hotel and confirmed some of the information such as the lodging cost.

  13. sg Says:

    For months now the only real reason to visit this site has been to answer the question, How is Morse going to embarrass himself now? And today might be the best pay off yet — the “investigative journalist” who fancies himself knowledgeable, yet has apparently never heard the phrase “government rate”.

    Morse, the inhuman determination and doggedness that you apply to shredding your own reputation continues to amaze. Keep it up! It’s the best public meltdown since the movie “Grizzly Man”!