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US document review process blasted

March 29, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The review process on releasing potentially sensitive government files from the Homeland Security Department to the public was onerous and overly political, a key official in the process had complained in a series of e-mails in late 2009.

Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, who was appointed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said she wanted to change the process, according to uncensored e-mails newly obtained by the Associated Press. In the e-mails, she warned that the Homeland Security Department might be sued over delays the political reviews were causing, and she hinted that a reporter might find out about the process.

The reviews are the subject of a congressional hearing later this week and an ongoing inquiry by the department’s inspector general.

“This level of attention is CRAZY,’’ Callahan wrote in December 2009 to her then-deputy, Catherine Papoi.

Callahan said she hoped someone outside the Obama administration would discover details of the political reviews, possibly by asking for evidence of them under the Freedom of Information Act itself: “I really, really want someone to FOIA this whole damn process,’’ Callahan wrote.

Callahan is expected to be a central witness during an oversight hearing Thursday by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.

Anticipating the hearing, the department announced internally yesterday that any further political review of information requests will be completed within 24 hours.

The congressional investigation into government transparency under President Obama is among the earliest by Republicans since they won control of the House and targets one of the first pledges Obama made after he moved into the White House.

Less than one week after Callahan’s e-mail, on Dec. 21, the Associated Press formally requested the records about the controversial political vetting. The agency ultimately turned over more than 995 pages of e-mails last summer, after a seven-month fight.

But the e-mails were heavily censored under a provision in the Freedom of Information Act allowing the government to withhold passages that describe internal policy-making deliberations.

The newly obtained versions of the same internal e-mails are not censored. They show that insiders described the unusual political vetting as “meddling,’’ “nuts,’’ and “bananas!’’ — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Patrick Kennedy engaged to N.J. school teacher
WASHINGTON — Longtime bachelor Patrick Kennedy is engaged to marry a New Jersey school teacher he has been dating for two years, the recently retired congressman from Rhode Island confirmed yesterday.

Kennedy, 43, the youngest child of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, asked Amy Petitgout to marry him over the weekend in Rhode Island, according to Sean Richardson, a former Kennedy aide and one of his closest friends.

“My father spoke about his True Compass, guiding him through his journey of life,’’ Kennedy said in a brief statement, referring to the title of his father’s book. “I have found mine with Amy. She has helped me navigate the uncharted waters of life beyond politics and given me the reason to look forward to a personal life with family and friends.’’

Petitgout, who has a 3-year-old daughter, Harper, from a previous marriage, said in a statement that Kennedy “has become part of my family and loves my daughter as his own.’’

The couple had met in New Jersey at a political event, said Richardson.

Kennedy said in a text message that a Cape Cod wedding is planned. No date has been revealed.

Kennedy did not run for reelection last fall after representing Rhode Island in the US House for 16 years.

He is organizing a conference in Boston for late spring on research into improving understanding on how the brain functions. — MARK ARSENAULT

Obama urges fewer tests to gauge student progress
WASHINGTON — President Obama said yesterday that students should take fewer standardized tests and school performance should be measured in other ways. Too much testing makes education boring for students, he said.

“Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students,’’ the president told students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C.

Obama, who is pushing a rewrite of the nation’s education law that would ease some of its rigid measurement tools, said policymakers should find a test that “everybody agrees makes sense’’ and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.

At the same time, Obama said, schools should be judged on criteria other than student test performance, including attendance rate. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

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