Oversight

Lawmakers seek answers on security application release by USPS

    secure file (Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock.com) 

Two Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee want answers about how a former CIA officer's federal security clearance application ended up in the hands of a political action committee.

The security clearance application, the Standard Form 86, and personnel file of Abigail Spanberger, the former officer running for a Democratic congressional seat in Virginia, was reportedly released to the conservative PAC America Rising. According to its website, America Rising's "sole purpose is to hold Democrats accountable and expose any hidden hypocrisy."

Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Vice Ranking Member Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) wrote the acting inspector general of the U.S. Postal Service on Aug. 29 seeking more information about how the security application and personnel file were released.

"The release of Ms. Spanberger's unredacted SF-86 to any individual or entity without her permission in violation of the law would call into question the Postal Service's processes for responding to FOIA requests," they wrote.

The Postal Service issued an apology to Spanberger and blamed the inappropriate release of her official personnel file to "human error."

"We take full responsibility for this unfortunate error, and we have taken immediate steps to ensure this will not happen again. The Postal Service has addressed the issue by providing clear instructions and guidance to our employees tasked with the responsibility for handling these requests, and we will follow up with additional training," said spokesman Dave Partenheimer. "The Postal Service also intends to change our process for handling requests for OPF information to provide further protection against its inadvertent release, and to ensure that such requests are properly handled. We are continuing our review, but believe the issue began in June of 2018, and that only a small number of additional requests for information from personnel files were improperly processed."

America Rising CEO Joe Pounder told Buzzfeed News the group obtained an unredacted copy of the application through a Freedom of Information Act request with USPS, where Spanberger was also a former employee. America Rising then shared the documents with the Congressional Leadership Fund, a conservative super PAC.

In an interview with the New York Times, Spanberger accused the Congressional Leadership Fund of improperly obtaining the documents.

The lawmakers want to know whether anyone at USPS released the security clearance application, and if so, who and why, as well as whether such a release violates any laws or regulations or policies.

They also want to know what information should not have been provided, why USPS did not seek a privacy waiver before releasing the personnel file and whether anyone who handled America Rising's FOIA request knew Spanberger was running for Congress.

Further, they want to know whether USPS has adequate FOIA processing procedures and protections to prevent disclosure of protected information, and what actions USPS management has taken to prevent similar disclosures in the future.

This article was updated Aug. 30 to add comment from the USPS.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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