A top technology official at the Obama White House stayed mute Tuesday on the accounts from two colleagues, reported by The Daily Caller last June, that he asked for sweetheart deals from technology vendors on account of his position as a public official.
Brook Colangelo, the chief information officer for the Executive Office of the President, declined to answer questions about the matter following his first congressional testimony since TheDC’s story ran.
Asked in several different ways about the issue, Colangelo offered nothing but a scowl. A colleague walking with Colangelo said “we can’t talk right now.”
Two White House aides said Colangelo asked for the sweetheart deals.
“I heard the CIO talking to various technology vendors, saying … like, ‘You should give this to us for free because we’re the White House.’ And he actually said that to people,” one source said. A second source said Colangelo continued the practice even after having been confronted about its appropriateness.
Following the story, a third source said then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel took Colangelo aside to personally underscore the seriousness of the charge.
But a White House spokeswoman at the time deflected the question, saying it wasn’t the Office of Technology’s policy going forward to ask for “special treatment or deals from vendors.”
The issue is important for two reasons.
First, the Obama presidency is under scrutiny for its close ties to several technology companies, including Google and Facebook.
Regarding Google, a former top lobbyist for the search giant then working for Obama, Andrew McLaughlin, was officially reprimanded for coordinating public relations strategies from his personal Gmail account, bypassing federal recordkeeping requirements in potential violation of the law.
On Facebook, critics questioned when Obama held a virtual town hall at the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto, California April 20.
Also underscoring the importance of Colangelo asking for sweetheart deals from technology vendors is that top GOP oversight officials are closely examining the Obama White House’s policies regarding adherence to the Presidential Records Act, a federal recordkeeping law that requires documents and correspondence, including email, to be archived.
At the hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Tuesday, Colangelo conceded to Chairman Darrell Issa that iPads, smart phones and other devices could easily bypass the record keeping system that automatically preserves White House emails.
The White House employs software that blocks computers from accessing Gmail, Hotmail, Facebook, Twitter and other sites, but iPads and smart phones allow Internet access via a cell phone connection.
“Have you ever seen one of these in the White House?” Issa asked Colangelo, holding up an iPad for dramatic effect.
“Yes,” Colangelo said.
“Nothing stops someone from” using the devices, “isn’t that true?” Issa said.
Colangelo said the White House had “strong policy” and training to keep top officials from using the devices to bypass the record-keeping systems but eventually admitted, “individuals are not restricted on what they bring into the White House on personal devices on their person.”