The Real Reason Janet Napolitano Doesn't Like Email — Accountability

from the don't-make-me-back-up-my-statements dept

We’ve already detailed the cognitive dissonance created by DHS head Janet Napolitano’s statements on email usage. Last September, she blithely pointed out that she doesn’t use email “at all,” and in fact, “avoids many online services.” She went on to say that some would call her a “Luddite” and seemed to present the incongruous situation as comical. Hilarity ensued. Powerful government official says, “What, me internet?” LOLS at 11.

So, we all had a good, if disbelieving laugh at her our own expense (we’re still paying her salary), and Janet Napolitano went back to not checking the email account she doesn’t have and not internetting with any regularity — the sort of thing that might be considering endearing if it weren’t for the fact that so many politicians openly brag about their lack of computer skills, while simultaneously crafting, amending, voting on a variety of computer-related laws.

Napolitano broached the email subject again recently at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor. She restated her view on email as a non-essential annoyance, rather than, say, an extremely useful communication tool.

Ms. Napolitano said she cut the email cord while governor of Arizona “because I was just getting — you know, you get hundreds and hundreds of things all the time.”

In her current job, “which has a hundred thousand different things that happen on any given day, [not using email] allows me to focus on where I need to focus,” she added.

I can understand feeling overwhelmed by incoming email, but many other people have to deal with the overflowing inboxes and, while they may not like the tedium of dealing with the incoming traffic, they also realize it’s an important part of their job and a byproduct of changes in the way people communicate. I’m also fairly sure Napolitano has a staff at her disposal and the power to delegate much of email busywork to others.

So, there’s the “it’s too much” angle. But her followup comment seems to indicate the real reason she’s abandoned email.

“I also don’t like the process where people could send you an email, then say, see, you were told, or you know this. And then it comes back two years later to say, hey, you got this email — among the thousands you get every day.

“I want to be a little more selective on how that goes,” she concluded.

Oh, I see. Napolitano doesn’t want to be accountable. That’s interesting bullshit. Once again, she has a staff to use. She has any number of resources available to help her organize her incoming mail. She has a lot more tools at her disposal than most, and yet she’d rather just turn the switch to OFF in order to avoid any accountability for statements made, answers given or issues ignored.

Cutting off a heavily-used communication form isn’t being “selective.” It’s willful exclusion, and it places Napolitano’s self-interest above the interests of the public and the responsibilities of her position. Would anyone cut her any slack if she had announced she took her phone off the hook back when she was governor of Arizona and STILL HASN’T REPLACED THE HANDSET? “I don’t like this process where people call you, then say you were told or you know this. And it comes back two years later, hey, we spoke on the phone — among the thousands of phone calls I get every day.” Would that be acceptable?

There are people out there who think Napolitano should be excused for abandoning email. I would imagine many of these people find this form of communication just as tiresome as she apparently does, but their personal antipathy (and hers) doesn’t excuse this sort of exclusionary behavior. Many people hate the demands this accessibility places on them. But they just can’t ignore it, especially if they’re in the sort of position Napolitano’s in.

It was already irritating when she was just doing her “I’m a Luddite LOL” schtick. By openly admitting she’s not thrilled that stored electronic communication can be used to hold her responsible for statements or actions, she’s crossed the line from obtuse into contemptuous. Our leaders are supposed to be accountable for their actions, and yet many of them do everything they possibly can to avoid it. The DC motto has become “With great power comes selective responsibility,” and Napolitano’s statement is sadly, unsurprising.

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Comments on “The Real Reason Janet Napolitano Doesn't Like Email — Accountability”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Last September, she blithely pointed out that she doesn’t use email “at all,” and in fact, “avoids many online services.” She went on to say that some would call her a “Luddite” and seemed to present the incongruous situation as comical. Hilarity ensued. Powerful government official says, “What, me internet?” LOLS at 11.

I remember that. Mike, ever the FUD-packer, claimed that we should be “very, very worried” because “she doesn’t seem to have the necessary experience.” Of course, Mike couldn’t identify one single thing that her aversion to using email proved she couldn’t understand. It just more childish, anti-government FUD from Pirate Mike. And here we are with more of the same from you. Keep up the great work, TD! Keep proving to the world that you’re a bunch of idiots who will always remain on the fringe.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So, what are you going to say when someone who makes the rules for Food Safety comes out and says they don’t use gloves or wash their hands?
Or when someone who makes the rules for car drivers admits to never having driven a car in their life?

Your post boils down to “I know Mike is right, I’m even going to quote where he’s right, but because I’m a sad excuse for a human being, I’m gonna hate on him just because.

Anonymous Coward says:

Janet is expressing the exact reason why more and more companies that can, are moving out of the US. The issue of invasion of privacy (or it’s lack) on the internet is becoming a badge of pride for those living in other parts of the world.

I long ago gave up on email. But then my circumstances are different. I don’t hold public office. I have instead stripped out time not to have to deal with spam. If you don’t have an email you’re not going to be spending a lot of time cleaning it out. I came to this decision many years ago when spam was much worse than it is now with lots of it getting through. My personal life does not require email to function.

Public officials dodging records are another matter. It seems every official has some method to attempt to dodge accountability. Janet has not removed that requirement but has owned up to not wanting the same eyes over her shoulder she would have over yours.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

no offense, but i really don’t get this ‘oh noes, all the spams will asphyxiate me! ! !’ type of complaint/fear…

i can’t imagine my ISP is that good at filtering spam (in fact, i know they are not); yet i do not get very significant amounts of ‘spam’ at all across the half dozen email accounts i have… really, it is NOTHING to skip past the spammish email to access my ‘real’ email…

the spam-like email i do get, is almost always from some business i have had a transaction with, and they either sign you up for their enewsletter/whatever, or make you opt-in to their email crapola…

i don’t know, i have never gotten any significant amounts of spam that has ever made it an issue, really…
…and compared to unwanted faxes or text msgs, they are not diminishing my quality of life significantly…

spam just ain’t a real problem in my life…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I couldn’t agree more. Who gets significant spam these days? Seriously?

I get maybe two spam email a day at most and they are all flagged as spam by the company I use to host my domains. Even the spam hotmail address I created back in 2000 gets barely any spam into my inbox; it’s all caught by the spam filter.

Arthur Moore (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

He said he gave it up long ago. I’m not sure if you’ve had the dubious pleasure of using Hotmail or not, but spam was a real issue.

I have never seen a working spam filter for that E-Mail address. There was only everything goes to my inbox, randomly mark some E-Mails as spam (including important ones), or mark almost everything as spam. If you went that last route you still ended up with spam in your inbox while everything important is in your spam folder.

I use my own domain name, and a different address for every account I sign up for. That way, I know what company sold me out to the spammers.

I also don’t use E-Mail for important communication without some other means of verification. It’s just like real mail. You can’t be sure the receiver has gotten it until they tell you they have.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So Big Sis can’t deal with her own personal flood of email because she might miss something and it would burn her.
Except isn’t she all interested in getting the ability to sift everyone’s emails to make sure they are not secret terrorists?

What if she were to miss something in all of that sifting, wouldn’t the better answer be to stop monitoring everything and just focus on where she needs to actually focus?

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No, she’s avoiding an infinite cycle. When her dept looks through other’s mail, it’s one and done. But if the DHS were to look through her email, it would email her, which would then get searched, and then emailed to her again, causing a dastardly infinite loop. She’s doing this out of the goodness of her heart, to free up resources, save money, and stop rifts in the space/time continuum. I wish you people could see that.

mischab1 says:

I got the impression she is wanting to avoid false accountability.

If you get thousands of emails a day, just because someone sent you an email and it is in your inbox, doesn’t mean you actually read it. For that matter, just because it is marked as read, doesn’t mean you actually read the email.

Related to that… What moron thought it was a good idea for email programs to auto display an email in a viewing pane and then mark it as read after half a second? At least I, as a tech savvy person, know I can turn that off.

Mike says:

Actually, it makes perfect sense

Speaking as a lawyer and former aide to public officials, the idea of NOT using email or other similar communication technology is actually GOOD practice. Emails are all subject to open records requests. Even if you have a reason to exclude them, it’s still time and energy to do so.

It flat out saves heart ache and work and money, NOT to use email.

Even in the private context, fewer emails is better especially in areas that are likely to be the subject of litigation. And once litigation has commenced, a no email policy is great.

As lawyers like to remind people, pick up the frickin’ phone!

Mr. Applegate says:


Setup a email account in her name > /dev/printer

Then have it snail mailed to her. I get to use email for ‘record keeping’ she gets all her ’email’ printed off and handed to her via paper.

Then disable her computer login(s), phone(s)…, since she doesn’t like technology.

If she begs I will give her a manual typewriter.

Your Welcome

Austin (profile) says:

Sucks for her staff

Keep in mind, this MAY help her avoid any sort of liability for reading (or neglecting to read) emails. But it doesn’t help the staff she delegates these things to. In other words, this doesn’t really remove the blame for a potential failure. It merely shifts it to the hired help.

If I was working for her I’d quit over something like this on as good terms as possible. The alternative is that, sooner or later, something will hit the fan and THEY will be the ones fired in disgrace, not the Luddite boss. At least if her staff quits now they might get a good recommendation out of it.

Richard (profile) says:

So if everyone she talked to on the phone started every conversation with “By the way, I’ll be recording this phone call for my own records” would she ditch taking phone calls too? What about if every piece of snail mail and fax had a note at the start stating it too, had a copy kept for records, would she ditch them? Maybe if enough people did it, she could be pushed away from all forms of communication?

Anonymous Coward says:

You know, I dislike Napolitano & Obama,… And, this certainly IS avoidance behavior in the extreme…

But I just gotta say,…She’s got a point. Just because you got an email does not mean that you know a thing. And, if your position is all about accountability about what you know and don’t, NOT having an email address IS an advantage.

That said,… If you need her & her department to know something, plaster the crap out of all her underlings with emails,… She’ll still have to dance the dance of plausible deniability.

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