Kerry Creates "Transparency Coordinator" Job Amid Clinton Email Flap

A longtime State Department official will seek to improve compliance with public-records laws and lawmakers’ demands for documents.

Secretary of State John Kerry  (Anadolu Agency AFP/Getty)

Secretary of State John Kerry has created a new position to improve the department’s handling of documents amid a growing flood of requests under public-records laws and intense scrutiny of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email system when leading the State Department.

Amb. Janice Jacobs, formerly the assistant secretary for consular affairs, in the new position of “transparency coordinator” has a mandate to improve “document preservation and transparency systems,” Kerry said in a statement.

Kerry said he has tasked Jacobs with “improving our systems for responding to Freedom of Information Act and congressional requests faster and more efficiently.”

Jacobs, who has held various roles at State dating back to 1980, will lead efforts to respond to an ongoing review by State’s inspector general that Kerry requested in March, and wider Obama administration efforts to improve records management, he said.

The move is the latest fallout from the revelation in March that Clinton, currently the front-runner for the Democratic White House nomination, used both a private email address and a private server during her time as secretary of State.

State is currently vetting thousands of pages of Clinton’s emails that she provided to the department late last year, and is now releasing them in monthly batches under a court order. The task is consuming a major portion of the resources of the department’s FOIA office.

The State Department has faced strong criticism from lawmakers, journalists, and transparency advocates over the government’s responsiveness under FOIA.

State has seen a threefold jump in FOIA requests since 2008, Kerry said.

The department is also working on requests from several lawmakers. Trey Gowdy, the GOP chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, has frequently accused State of slow-walking his document demands.

Kerry took care to praise the existing work done at State to respond to the “unprecedented” number of document requests under FOIA and from Congress, but he added that improvements are needed.

“[I]t is clear that our systems and our resources are straining to keep pace with the growing number of records we create and the expanding demand for access to them. It is time to take further action,” he said. “I want the Department to lead on these issues, to set and achieve a new standard for our efforts, and harness new technological tools in order to meet our commitments.” Jacobs will also work with other agencies and the private sector on the initiative, Kerry said.

John Kirby, a State Department spokesman, said there will be a “small but nimble” staff supporting Jacobs. “We will make sure that she has the administrative support she needs to do her job,” Kirby said at a briefing.

He said Jacobs will meet regularly with Kerry.

Jacobs will not be involved in decisions about classification, Kirby said. The State Department has differed with intelligence community officials about whether certain emails that Clinton turned over should be considered classified, even “top secret.”