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'Politico' Report Finds Lack Of Transparency Surrounding Work Of Trump's Cabinet Secretaries

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On any given day it's easy to find reports of what the president is up to. There's a lot more secrecy surrounding his Cabinet secretaries. Those are the officials that run everything from the Environmental Protection Agency to the departments of transportation, energy, housing and more. Politico looked into 17 members of Trump's Cabinet and found that many of them provide little or no information about their schedules. That's a break from the policy under presidents Obama and George W. Bush.

Emily Holden of Politico is here to tell us about it. Hi there.

EMILY HOLDEN: Hi.

SHAPIRO: What do you mean when you write that Cabinet secretaries are carrying out the Trump administration agenda largely in secret? What exactly is the information they're not putting out?

HOLDEN: So we really did this in numbers. And we polled each of our policy reporters to ask, how does your agency handle this specifically? And we found that eight of the 17 we looked at don't give advance public notice or press notice of where they will be even when they're having public events. Say they're speaking to a trade group, or they're at a conference, or they're out of town at something that the press should know about. And in addition to that, six out of the 17 also are not releasing the calendars that their agency heads. So after the fact saying this is where we were on this day, and this is who we talked to.

SHAPIRO: Who are the worst offenders?

HOLDEN: I think that EPA's Scott Pruitt has definitely come under a lot of criticism for where he has been because there's been some reporting already to show that he'll meet with a trade group, and then he will soon after make a decision in their favor. Now, that's what he came into office to do. He said that he wanted to roll back regulations that he thinks aren't fair to industry. And so that is his intention. But we've even had instances where the EPA press staff will - won't confirm that he's traveling when we have someone who's seen him on a flight somewhere. They won't tell us where he's going or why. One of those he was traveling to meet with fuel marketers to speak at their conference. And so those are very clearly businesses he's regulating.

SHAPIRO: Why does it matter whether the public has this information or not?

HOLDEN: Well, I think that the government oversight groups we were talking to are saying that, you know, if you don't know where these people are that really should make you question, what are they hiding because they should be doing things that are going to help Americans. And everyday Americans don't have time to follow the schedules of all these people, so they really depend on beat reporters and national reporters and also local reporters to keep tabs on what they're doing and what that means for them, for their health and their safety.

SHAPIRO: We're not just talking about, for example, the head of the CIA. We're talking about the head of Housing and Urban Development, who's creating housing policy for Americans.

HOLDEN: Exactly. And also the - you know, the education secretary, who had a meeting with the education minister from Saudi Arabia. And our reporters and other reporters only found out about it on social media.

SHAPIRO: What did the Trump administration tell you about their decision not to make these schedules public?

HOLDEN: They essentially said, we don't have a policy on whether agencies are releasing this information in advance, but we do tell agencies that they must comply with these Freedom of Information Act requests after the fact to put out their schedules.

SHAPIRO: Every presidential administration has fights with the press over transparency. How is what's happening in the Trump administration different from what we saw under Obama and George W. Bush?

HOLDEN: Right. So you've seen examples of this before under the Obama administration. The Associated Press had to sue for the calendars from the State Department for Hillary Clinton and didn't get all of those until after the election, actually. But what we're seeing here appears to be more of a pattern where you have not only an attempt to keep this veil over what they're doing every day and their advance schedules - which, you know, could be to an extent their prerogative, to decide, you know, what they allow reporters to come to, what they tell reporters about. But they do have a legal obligation if the calendars are requested to hand those over after the fact.

SHAPIRO: Emily Holden wrote the article for Politico "Where Is Trump's Cabinet? It's Anybody's Guess." Thanks for coming into the studio today.

HOLDEN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.