One blue city has a secret tool to hammer out off-the-record deals

Freedom of Information Act requests are every crooked politician’s nightmare.

But the local government at the heart of the Washington, D.C. Swamp found a way to hide all kinds of information from the official record.

And it’s the perfect option to hammer out off-the-record deals.

This week, 14 Members of Congress signed onto a letter hoping to force Washington, D. C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office to clean up their act.

The latest move comes after the Washington, D.C. Council slapped an emergency measure on the Mayor’s administration earlier this month to regulate the city employees’ use of WhatsApp and other messaging services.

Chairman Phil Mendelson said, “There are members of the executive branch that are deliberately using communication platforms such as WhatsApp to possibly avoid the FOIA ability of those communications and this bill will make it clear those are public records that can not be deleted and will be treated like any other communication.”

But the committee on Oversight and Reform is concerned about whether the new rules implemented after “years of abuses” will make a real difference.

So, they sent a letter to the federal Office of the Inspector General requesting an investigation into what’s happening behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. city offices.

The Committee has primary legislative jurisdiction over “municipal affairs of the District of Columbia in general” and committee members are demanding a response from the Inspector General’s Office by March 21.

In February Axios ran an article about Bowser’s use of WhatsApp noting that the app makes it easier to keep messages secret or destroy them.

The Mayor’s Office also seemed completely uninterested in responding to the publication’s concerns including “multiple queries on whether the administration forbids the use of the auto-delete feature and how it ensures communications are archived.”

In fact, even under duress, the most the Mayor was willing to do to cooperate with the journalist was to produce a single sentence statement: “We communicate using a variety of methods to accomplish our work in an expeditious manner.”

It seems likely that avoiding Freedom of Information requests is probably pretty high on their list of ways to work in an “expeditious manner.”

The city is already in plenty of trouble for apparently sneaking around.

Earlier this year a public defender filed a lawsuit claiming that the police department “maintains a ‘watchlist’ of reporters and critics whose public records requests are denied or ‘slow-walked.’”

The police department claims it isn’t currently keeping a watchlist – but that’s also exactly what you’d expect them to say.

The city, which has about 61 square miles of land – much of which is dedicated to national parks and federal government buildings – spends close to $8 billion each year.

No doubt, being the center of an international source of political power has gone to the heads of some city employees, but the great mystery is what has already disappeared off their cell phones.

Stay tuned to Blue State Blues for any updates to this ongoing story.

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