Why Are Working Group Members Being Concealed?
Nearly four months after we asked the U.S. Coast Guard basic questions about their “final report” on how to integrate a proposed offshore wind energy industry off the Eastern Seaboard – a study that concludes commercial shipping is incompatible with offshore wind turbines – the Coast Guard still has not provided us with all the names of the members of the Atlantic Coast Port Access Route Study (ACPARS) Working Group.
Rather than transparency, the Coast Guard redacted more than 80% of the names in response to our original Freedom of Information Act request. Although our attorney filed an appeal of the Coast Guard’s ruling more than a month ago, and sent a second reminder letter, as of the date of this publication, we have not even received an official acknowledgement of our appeal.
Is the Coast Guard deliberately concealing answers to questions about the study? Or is this delay emblematic of the Coast Guard’s systemic problems with transparency and accountability as detailed in the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)’s Compliance Review of the Coast Guard’s Freedom of Information Act Program?
Only Coast Guard Personnel?
But this statement contradicts what we learned from the study’s Interim Report, that lists Working Group personnel from supporting offices throughout the Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Maritime Administration (MARAD).
The Coast Guard’s response also failed to include Project Manager Emile Benard of Booze Allen Hamilton, and Gary Rascott, director of Marine Transportation Systems, who, according to a tip, also served as a Working Group co-chair.
Federal Ombudsman Cites Deficiencies
These problems with transparency and accountability are directly addressed in the OGIS compliance review. Three primary findings are:
- The Coast Guard is not effectively managing challenges created by decentralization;
- Technology is under-utilized; and
- Communication needs improvement.”
The compliance review continues:
“We observed a general lack of clarity in written communication with requesters, particularly with regard to descriptions of exemptions used to withhold material. In some instances, the description of the exemption was vague and in at least one letter we reviewed, the exemption is not explained at all.”
“We further recommend that the Coast Guard revise its template letters so that they use plain language and less jargon, making them easier for the general public to understand. Creating these templates may also help eliminate some of the errors we observed in the Coast Guard’s communication with requesters, including noting incorrect dates of correspondence and failing to note that the requester updated the scope of the request.”
It does not matter whether the Coast Guard is dragging this process out to avoid answering important questions about the offshore wind energy study, or is failing to answer our simple requests in timely fashion because of deep institutional problems.
The tax-paying public has a right to know who the Working Group members are and who they relied upon for guidance when developing their recommendations regarding integrating shipping with offshore wind energy installations. As our investigation continues, we hope the Coast Guard will answer these basic questions.
Evlondo Cooper is a senior fellow with Checks and Balances Project, a national watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP comes from pro-clean energy philanthropies and donors.