“It is very time-consuming for us and is pulling us away from the work we should be doing, whether it’s Medicaid reform, whether it’s now the federal shutdown, whether it’s sequestration … It is truly taking away time and resources from us doing our jobs.”
That’s Aldona Wos, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, explaining to state legislators what she thinks of public information requests.
Let’s think about what that could mean:
* She doesn’t understand the purpose of the law, which is to promote transparency in government operations.
* She doesn’t understand that the public is her constituency and her boss. It’s not uncommon for a bureaucrat to think she is only responsible to the person who hired her, rather than the people who pay her salary and for whom she serves.
* She doesn’t like reporters, who, when they are doing their jobs right, can be a pain in the ass, particularly to people who won’t answer their questions. Given some of the things the person who hired her, Gov. McCrory, has said about reporters, it isn’t surprising that she’s following suit.
* She doesn’t like the story the reporter is pursuing. In this case, the reporter is Rosemary Hoban, who wrote a damning piece about how Wos’ department edited out information administrative costs, management problems and budget overruns in the state’s Medicaid program. It is exceptional reporting that reveals what should be embarrassing behavior by her department.
* She doesn’t understand how her words sound. They may make the base happy — “give those reporters hell!” — but to most people, she sounds whiny and petulant. And no one — the governor? her high-priced PR man? — has told her that she should tone it down.
* She’s not used to having a boss. I mean, everyone complains his or her boss. They just tend not to do it when reporters are around.
Of course, it’s difficult to determine which, if any, of these possible interpretations of her remarks apply because she rarely talks to reporters.
(For the record, I think I speak for most businesses when I say that government requests for information are very time-consuming and pull me away from the work I should be doing. They are truly taking away time and resources from me doing my job.)
Without question, there is truth behind her words. Public information requests are time-consuming and expensive. But there is a way to meliorate their impact: Actually talk to the news media, a point made by Rosemary Hoban on WRAL reporter Mark Binker’s Facebook page: “Perhaps if they answered press calls, we all wouldn’t need to resort to public records requests for EVERYTHING.”