STUMP » Articles » Obamacare (and Government Corruption (BIRM)) Watch: Amateur Hour with Email » 16 August 2014, 08:57

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Obamacare (and Government Corruption (BIRM)) Watch: Amateur Hour with Email  


16 August 2014, 08:57

Before I get into this, can we all agree that HHS deliberately obliterated emails and are really, really, REALLY hoping nobody saved a copy in this age of virtually free disk space?

(same for IRS, EPA, and, what the hell, NIST (I’m making up that last one, btw (seriously, don’t screw with Weights & Measures)))

Okay, when I read this, I was offended. Guess why.

An email obtained by Congress shows the top official for at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Department of Health and Human Services, Marilyn Tavenner, instructed the agency’s top spokesman to “Please delete this email.”

The instruction appears significant for several reasons: First, the email to be deleted included an exchange between key White House officials and CMS officials. Second, the email was dated October 5, 2013, five days into the disastrous launch of Third, federal law requires federal officials to retain copies of –not delete– email exchanges. And fourth, the document to be deleted is covered under Congressional subpoena as well as longstanding Freedom of Information requests made by members of the media (including me).

In a letter today, House Energy and Commerce leaders asked Tavenner to explain why she asked her colleague to delete the email, and the letter questions whether there are other instances in which she instructed HHS staff to delete emails. The letter also asks for more details regarding Congressional subpoenaed documents, including Tavenner emails, that CMS recently said might be permanently lost; and it requests an explanation as to why redactions are made in some documents provided to Congress so far.

Now, you may think the reason I am offended is one of the four points Sharyl Attkisson in the second paragraph.

Not really. That sort of crap is par for the course in an increasingly obviously corrupt administration.

It’s that Tavenner sent the email in the first place.

Look, I am not saying anything in the email itself is illegal (other than the request for deletion). I am sure it’s just highly embarrassing for the administration given the monstrous fuck-up that was the federal exchange roll-out in 2013. Embarrassment is not a crime.

But this is very simple, and is an important lesson for anybody:


This also goes for other communications, but I am so offended by this amateurism, that I thought this needed to be made explicitly about email.

I already had a round of this back in the day, when a bunch of people on blogger and other public blogging sites discovered that their SUPER SECRET THOUGHTS that they were POSTING ONLINE were readable by anybody, including their own family members. Here is something I posted in 1996

12 June 1996

Hey there, whoever. Since I’m on the computer alot, waiting for
runs to be completed, I’m usually wasting my time on netscape or some
similar time-sucker. I thought I’d do something productive/creative. So
here’s a little thought journal.

I don’t believe in anything like secure files (even if I encrypted
them — but it might take a little more being on the spot), *so I’m just
going to put mundane, conversational stuff here. Things I’d say to
anyone. So hello, if this isn’t me.* If I feel like it, I’ll put it up on
the vanity pages I call my web pages.

To be sure, the only person reading my pages were me and possibly Stu, but I was not about to put anything sensitive online.

THAT WAS 1996!

In that year, it would not have been unusual to not backup emails to an offsite server and delete as they came in. Disk space was still somewhat precious. There were limits to one’s mail folder, and it was tough to email pictures, let alone videos.

Even our notoriously tech-inept federal government should be able to own some server space somewhere for all their emails. The various “hard drive crash” explanations are barely credible. I hope they were really good at obliterating all their backups.

But back to the offense at hand.

Evidently, some people need training. I got told this explicitly when entering the corporate world (and I only had to deal with issues on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars): for sensitive issues, the best is face-to-face, and then next is on the phone (live, not voicemail).


It’s not about hiding wrongdoing, or even preventing embarrassment, so much as email is so easily distributable and so insecure, people who should not be getting the info can get it. I’ve ended up with files that had salary info and social security numbers of a bunch of people, and I was not supposed to have gotten it. I deleted the file, and contacted the other person BY PHONE to let them know what happened and asked them to check if anybody else got the files, and to check BY PHONE.

Now, there were several very important people on the distribution list, and it wouldn’t surprise me they’re in several time zones. So I don’t expect Tavenner to have called them individually.

This is how it works: you send an email to an invite for a conference call, or you email and ask when they’d be available for a call. And then you discuss the issues on the call.

Yes, there’s still a danger that someone is recording and transcribing a call, but that’s less dangerous than putting sensitive info in an email.

Yes, this is all very inconvenient, but if it really is that sensitive and important, one should go to the effort. Otherwise, you’re treating the matter too cavalierly.

But treating important things cavalierly is a hallmark of the Obama administration.


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