The Social Security Administration is withholding documents regarding its $1.8 million contract with public-relations firm Fleishman-Hillard Inc. and possibly information on other contracts, an activist group alleges in a complaint filed in federal district court.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington complains that the Social Security Administration failed to meet its legal deadline for producing documents under a Freedom of Information Act Request.
CREW had asked Social Security to produce all records relating to contracts it has with public relations firms.
The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to respond to FOIA requests within 20 days, but SSA has not responded to CREW’s request. Agency spokesman Mark Hinkle, however, said Social Security is “actively working” to honor the request. “We honor every FOIA request. Any delay may just be a matter of gathering all the information.”
The request for documents was filed in January after the Department of Education confirmed that it paid TV commentator and columnist Armstrong Williams $240,000 to promote the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind program. CREW then filed FOIA requests with Social Security and 21 other federal agencies to learn whether they had similar contracts to promote White House initiatives.
The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to respond to FOIA requests within 20 days, but SSA has not responded to CREW’s request.
CREW charges that the Social Security Administration, which is obligated to act independently of White House legislative initiatives, has been using taxpayer dollars to push the Bush Administration’s controversial plan to let workers invest a portion of their Social Security contributions on Wall Street.
For instance, callers to Social Security hear a taped message warning of a pending crisis and their notices of benefits include predictions that the system is facing serious future financial problems.
“The SSA has been promoting the idea that Social Security is facing a crisis,” CREW said.
“We know that SSA has paid Fleischman-Hillard nearly $1.8 million since September 2003,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “We don’t know what role, if any, Fleischman-Hillard has played in manufacturing that crisis.
"This Administration has a demonstrated pattern of misrepresenting important information to the public. The Social Security Administration must abide by the law and divulge any contracts that were intended to unduly influence the American people,” Sloan added.