By Dave Lindorff
The New York Times on March 12 reported that the Trump administration, for a variety of reasons, was filling the offices of administrative agencies at a glacial pace. From the Department of Agriculture to the Weather Service, over 2,000 mid-level political-appointee positions were still unfilled; the Times called it "the slowest transition in decades."
One place that slowness has showed up clearly is in the staffing of what are variously called Public Affairs offices, Newsrooms or Media Offices of these government departments and agencies--the very offices that reporters in both Washington bureaus and in newsrooms around the country depend on to get routine information about what these departments and agencies are doing, or, in the case of more investigative assignments, to ask basic questions and set up interviews with key personnel.
This reporter stumbled upon the problem earlier in the month while researching a story for High Times magazine on the fate, in the Trump administration, of the now 19-year-old ban on federal student aid for any students who are convicted of even a minor criminal drug violation. In my case, I began by calling the Department of Education's Press Room. (As of March 17, the website was still listing Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education, though he left a year ahead of Obama, and there was another secretary, John King, before Trump nominee Betsy DeVos took over.)
I reached a receptionist who took down my number, and a couple of days later received a call from a Jim Bradshaw, who asked me to send him a list of questions. I responded quickly with a list of 13, later adding two more, which ranged from policy questions to basic facts, such as how many students had lost aid or been banned from getting aid in 2016 because of a drug conviction, to simple information, such as whether DOE rules required a student to complete an approved drug rehab program, or simply to enroll in one, to have a ban lifted.
Bradshaw said he'd try to get me answers. Telling him my deadline was March 10, I asked him to please get me answers as he obtained them, and not to wait until he had them all, which he agreed to do.
After two weeks of repeated emails and phone messages to Bradshaw, and no answers, he finally emailed this hilarious non-response response...
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