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Finance chief appears before special committee

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SECRETARY of Finance David DLG Atalig appeared before the House Special Committee on Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures, on Monday to answer questions regarding redacted documents provided by the administration, among other subjects.

Since he became Finance secretary in April 2019,  Atalig said he has received a number of Open Government Act requests from private citizens, businesses, the Legislature and the Office of the Public Auditor.

He noted that the special committee has subpoenaed the Department of Finance to produce documents that were not submitted to the House of Representatives pursuant to an Open Government Act request addressed to Atalig and dated Dec. 10, 2019. These documents include but are not limited to the following:

  • Any and all records relating to first class/business class travel, etc.
  • Any and all redacted records showing credit card or bank information submitted by the governor.
  • Any and all records relating to expenses paid for by the Commonwealth government for executive security, etc.
  • Any and all records relating to housing and utility expenses paid for by the Commonwealth government for the governor.

Atalig said he sought the advice of legal counsel regarding the legislative subpoena, adding that there is nothing in writing on any standard operating procedure  that can guide the department regarding such subpoenas.

He said all Open Government Act or OGA requests made to the Department of Finance goes to his office.

Then, depending on what the request is, he assigns it to the appropriate division to gather the requested data or information for his review prior to release within a 10-day timeframe.

Regarding the redaction of documents, he said the Department follows what the OGA requires.

The department also has policies pertaining to protecting taxpayer and personal information, he added.

Atalig said he  also forwards copies of all OGA requests to the Office of the Attorney General to get clearance on whether the requested information is not in any of the courts for review in any current cases.

If the information is a part of a current court case, the department will not release the information, he added.

Atalig said an assistant attorney general is assigned to his department while a tax attorney is assigned to the Division of Revenue and Taxation, which is under the department.

He said he also turns to the governor's legal counsel, Gilbert Birnbrich, for legal advice, especially on matters that do not pertain to tax laws.

"Normally… we do not release any personal information unless it's subpoenaed, and then we also have legal counsel to take a look at that," he said.

"In terms of regular OGA requests to my office for information like what we're discussing, yes, we do seek legal counsel to make sure that what we release is not in violation of any current court order, as stated in the OGA."

He said he was unaware that the original copies of the requested documents were redacted until he received a summons from the House special committee.

 

Regarding the OGA request from the House minority bloc, Atalig said he forwarded it to the legal counsel, then tasked his staff at the Division of Finance and Accounting and the Division of Administrative Services to gather the “enormous volume of documents.”

Atalig said he had five staff members working on this particular request almost full-time.

Because they would not have been able to submit all of the documents within the 10-day timeframe, he said they requested for an extension.

Unfortunately, he added, they could not meet the extended deadline either "because of some of the manual [processes] that we have at Finance."

He said they had to physically look at each of the travel requests.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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