Kerry taps State Dept 'transparency' czar to oversee records

AP News
Posted: Sep 08, 2015 4:48 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday appointed a "transparency coordinator" to streamline the State Department's much-criticized response to records requests from the public and Congress.

Kerry named retired Ambassador Janice Jacobs to the post to improve the preservation and release times of documents requested by Congress and the public under the Freedom of Information Act. Jacobs was previously assistant secretary of state for consular affairs and was instrumental in revamping the U.S. visa application process after Sept. 11, 2001.

The department has been criticized for inefficiency, notably since the clamor over former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's use of a private email server, in finding documents and releasing them in response to records requests. Since 2008, the number of FOIA requests has increased threefold and queries from Congress have jumped significantly. Officials say the sheer volume has strained existing resources and manpower, resulting in delays.

Within hours of her appointment, Republicans noted that Jacobs had donated $2,700 to Clinton's presidential campaign in June. Jacobs, contacted at home by The Associated Press, confirmed that she had made the donation and noted she was retired at the time and didn't expect to be recalled to work.

State Department spokesman John Kirby could not say whether Kerry was aware of the donation but said federal employees are not prohibited from making political donations. Kerry, he said, had full confidence in Jacobs and her experience. Kirby also noted that Jacobs would not be involved in adjudicating the release of Clinton's emails and had been appointed to oversee improvements to the department's overall records preservation and release process.

Kirby said Jacobs would have a lean staff but rejected suggestions that the step meant adding a layer of bureaucracy.

Kerry has asked the State Department's inspector general to review the agency's document management and retention policies and recommend improvements to the process. Jacobs will take the lead on implementing those recommendations when they are released.