Vice President Kamala Harris is the country’s least transparent elected official

Vice President Kamala Harris’s office recently denied our Freedom of Information Act request for basic payroll information for her office.

However, President Biden’s White House, federal executive agencies, all 50 states, and at least 80,000 local government units are legally required to provide this information. Our OpenTheBooks.com auditors capture and view 25 million salary and pension records each year on our website.

Still, the office of the Vice President (VP) was missing in our data, so we filed a request for details including the name, position and salary of the employee.

The vice-president’s rejection makes her the least transparent elected incumbent in the country. Citizens should be concerned that the next person running for president is so reluctant to reveal how they are spending their money

“The vice president’s office is not subject to Freedom of Information Act demands,” an executive for the vice president told our listeners at OpenTheBooks.com.

It was news for us.

Even FLOTUS disclosed its office workers and their salaries. For example, we know the 12 employees by name, title and salary who work for Dr. Jill Biden, the First Lady of the United States.

Congress, while not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), must publish its staff salaries online, by name, and all vendor checkbook expenses within their individual bureaus and committees. .

So, we then asked the VP for her high-level payroll summary information, that is, the number of office workers and their total payroll. After all, taxpayers foot the entire bill.

Instead, the official directed us to 5 USC § 551, which deals with public information and agency rules. Apparently, VP Harris’ office will not voluntarily open its books.

In this, the vice president is unique among every school, city, county, state, government agency and even quasi-government entities that are subject to the disclosure of their payroll by FOIA.

As far as we know, Vice President Harris – the number two and possible next President of the United States – is the only elected official in the country who is not required to share her payroll details with the public.

So why is Harris trying to hide her payroll information?

Of President’s Budget to Congress FY2022, we already know that she asked for a budget increase of $ 1 million, to $ 6 million. That includes 27 staff – an increase of four from former Vice President Mike Pence’s FY2021 budget.

Background

We reported in July that the 2021 White House office payroll for President Joe Biden is the largest in history, totaling $ 49.6 million for 567 White House employees.

During Biden’s four-year tenure, we expect his White House staff to cost taxpayers at least $ 200 million.

Currently, there are 190 more White House staff under Biden than under Trump (377) and 80 more than under Obama (487) – at the same time in their respective presidencies.

These numbers, however, do not include the Vice President’s office, and we do not know who is how much in Vice President Harris’ office. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives the public the right to request access at the federal agency records or information.

But what is a federal agency?

The Congressional Research Service (CRS, as of August 2020, refers to 5 USC § 551 definition of “agency” by another agency.

This broad definition is further described in the FOIA as that which “includes any executive department, military department, crown corporation, government-controlled corporation, or other establishment of the executive branch of government (including the executive office of the president). ), or any other independent regulatory body.

However, CRS notes the scope of the law, “while this definition encompasses a large portion of the federal government, it does not encompass the entire federal establishment. For example, FOIA does not apply to Congress, federal courts, or territorial governments.

While FOIA’s definition of “agency” includes the president’s executive office, CRS explains that the courts have ruled that even certain entities within them are excluded from the law.

For example, the 1980 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Kissinger v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press ruled that the transcripts of Henry Kissinger’s telephone conversations during his tenure as Assistant to the President on National Security Affairs did not have to be disclosed under FOIA.

In February 1994, President Clinton’s Deputy Attorney General Walter Dellinger wrote a memorandum in response to a request from Todd J. Campbell, lawyer and director of administration at VP, asking if his office is an “agency.” for FOIA purposes.

Dellinger concluded not.

He noted that the Supreme Court ruled that “agency” does not cover “the president’s immediate personal staff or executive office units whose sole function is to advise and assist the president”.

“The OVP (Office of the Vice-President) clearly meets the criterion of the ‘single function’ of the Supreme Court,” he argued, “because the vice-president and his staff do not have” a substantial independent authority in the exercise of specific functions ”, but rather have the sole function of advising and assisting the President.

Critics could say the memo used flawed legal analysis to predetermine the conclusion their own office wanted: to stop FOIA demands for the vice president.

While VP records are transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration after an administration leaves office, VP records are not available under FOIA until five years later.

Biden’s own VP files will be subject to public access requests starting January 20, 2022, while Pence’s former VP files will become available on January 20, 2026.

If Harris leaves her office as Vice President on January 20, 2025, after a term, her office records will not be available until January 20, 2030.

It’s a long time to wait to find out what our second in command in his office is doing.

Further reading

Biden’s inflated White House payroll is the most expensive in U.S. history

Access to Information Act Reference Guide

If the vice-president’s office is an “agency” for FOIA purposes


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