State Department

Post-Clinton, Kerry Creates 'Transparency Coordinator' Job at State

A longtime State Department official will seek to improve compliance with public-records laws and lawmakers’ demands for documents.

Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry has cre­ated a new po­s­i­tion to im­prove the de­part­ment’s hand­ling of doc­u­ments amid a grow­ing flood of re­quests un­der pub­lic-re­cords laws and in­tense scru­tiny of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s use of a private email sys­tem when lead­ing the State De­part­ment.

Amb. Janice Jac­obs, formerly the as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary for con­su­lar af­fairs, in the new po­s­i­tion of “trans­par­ency co­ordin­at­or” has a man­date to im­prove “doc­u­ment pre­ser­va­tion and trans­par­ency sys­tems,” Kerry said in a state­ment.

Kerry said he has tasked Jac­obs with “im­prov­ing our sys­tems for re­spond­ing to Free­dom of In­form­a­tion Act and con­gres­sion­al re­quests faster and more ef­fi­ciently.”

Jac­obs, who has held vari­ous roles at State dat­ing back to 1980, will lead ef­forts to re­spond to an on­go­ing re­view by State’s in­spect­or gen­er­al that Kerry re­ques­ted in March, and wider Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ef­forts to im­prove re­cords man­age­ment, he said.

The move is the latest fal­lout from the rev­el­a­tion in March that Clin­ton, cur­rently the front-run­ner for the Demo­crat­ic White House nom­in­a­tion, used both a private email ad­dress and a private serv­er dur­ing her time as sec­ret­ary of State.

State is cur­rently vet­ting thou­sands of pages of Clin­ton’s emails that she provided to the de­part­ment late last year, and is now re­leas­ing them in monthly batches un­der a court or­der. The task is con­sum­ing a ma­jor por­tion of the re­sources of the de­part­ment’s FOIA of­fice.

The State De­part­ment has faced strong cri­ti­cism from law­makers, journ­al­ists, and trans­par­ency ad­voc­ates over the gov­ern­ment’s re­spons­ive­ness un­der FOIA.

State has seen a threefold jump in FOIA re­quests since 2008, Kerry said.

The de­part­ment is also work­ing on re­quests from sev­er­al law­makers. Trey Gowdy, the GOP chair­man of the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi, has fre­quently ac­cused State of slow-walk­ing his doc­u­ment de­mands.

Kerry took care to praise the ex­ist­ing work done at State to re­spond to the “un­pre­ced­en­ted” num­ber of doc­u­ment re­quests un­der FOIA and from Con­gress, but he ad­ded that im­prove­ments are needed.

“[I]t is clear that our sys­tems and our re­sources are strain­ing to keep pace with the grow­ing num­ber of re­cords we cre­ate and the ex­pand­ing de­mand for ac­cess to them. It is time to take fur­ther ac­tion,” he said. “I want the De­part­ment to lead on these is­sues, to set and achieve a new stand­ard for our ef­forts, and har­ness new tech­no­lo­gic­al tools in or­der to meet our com­mit­ments.” Jac­obs will also work with oth­er agen­cies and the private sec­tor on the ini­ti­at­ive, Kerry said.

John Kirby, a State De­part­ment spokes­man, said there will be a “small but nimble” staff sup­port­ing Jac­obs. “We will make sure that she has the ad­min­is­trat­ive sup­port she needs to do her job,” Kirby said at a brief­ing.

He said Jac­obs will meet reg­u­larly with Kerry.

Jac­obs will not be in­volved in de­cisions about clas­si­fic­a­tion, Kirby said. The State De­part­ment has differed with in­tel­li­gence com­munity of­fi­cials about wheth­er cer­tain emails that Clin­ton turned over should be con­sidered clas­si­fied, even “top secret.”