Graveside Remarks for a Relative with Bipolar Disorder

These were my July 9, 2016 remarks for a graveside service for a relative that died an untimely death after years of struggling with bipolar illness. Names have been changed for the sake of privacy.–David Schleicher


Even after a hundred thousand years, and knowing it happens to every single one of us, we are still not used to death. 

On top of that, like few other things can, the death of children before their parents makes us feel like the universe is out of order, that chaos controls our fate, and that we dare not hope for a better future.  I have lost a cousin under similar circumstances.  

For Cindy’s service today, our mutual relative Rebecca told me she would not be here. You may not know this, but Rebecca is bi-polar. She said I could explain there was simply too much risk this would throw her into a depression. 

For similar reasons I have requested that Michelle in my family, who also is bipolar, arrive just after the service. Or if she gets here while it is still going on, to stand where I cannot see her, because of the risk of my breaking down at the thought of her possibly coming to the same end. 

Rebecca has described her own struggle to me as always having a little man in the back of her head, trying to persuade her that she is not loved, that the universe would be better off with out her, and that there is only one way to end the pain. 

In dark times, she says he is shouting this so loudly he is very difficult to disobey. In good times, he still says it, but she is able to tell him he is a liar and let him fade into the background. 

In good times, there are few people more fun to be around than someone like Rebecca, Michelle, or Cindy. In bad times, the hybrid of depression and irritability drives others away when help is most needed.

We know enough now about neuroscience and the personal lives of the famous to be aware that it is often the most special among us that suffer from such conditions. Robin Williams comes to mind.

Looking through Cindy’s photo and memory album today, we were reminded of what a bright, beautiful, and shining light she was. I am passing around her physician father’s favorite photo of her: the very young Cindy examining her infant brother with a stethoscope.

She kept a note from a high school admirer who wrote, “Cindy—well you graduated. You think you’re bad and all. Well I’m here to tell you that you are…” Further down he added, “Even if you drop me like a football or even a baseball, I will always remember you. I reckon you are kinda hard to forget.” 

Another page of mementos reminds of us her love for Gone with the Wind, of Godiva Chocolate, and an Eddie Money concert she attended while in high school.  

We know these days that it is no surprise that in families that face such difficulties as we face today, one also might find a gifted opera singer (like him over there). Or an over-achieving medical researcher (like him there). 

Cindy was accomplished whether on the tennis court, running cross country, or in the classroom as a member of the National Honor Society. Artistic and creative, she was rarely in need of inspiration for her designs and watercolor and acrylic creations. When she wore shoes from two different pairs at the same time, she would leave others wondering what new trend they were missing out on rather than if she knew what she was doing. Whether as a high school homecoming queen nominee or as a TriDelt at her alma mater, others were drawn to her sparkle. 

It is a shared belief among most religions that humans are not up to the job, that left to our own devices we are broken, imperfect, and inadequate. In the lyrics of American saint Willie Nelson, “I may not be normal, but nobody is.”  It is no coincidence that we live in political climate in which the only thing we all still agree on is that the other side’s candidate is incompetent, a moral failure, and far too irrational to lead us. 

No matter how much brokenness and loss we see around us, the loss of life in today’s circumstances can make for a poison that is toxic to our happiness, mixing feelings of grief, guilt, anger, shame, relief for the end of another’s suffering, guilt for feeling relief, and incessant voices in our heads demanding to know “Why didn’t you…”, “What if we had…”, “If only someone…”, and “Why me…why us…why her?” 

There is nothing that can be undone and life is just unfair enough that even if everything everyone’s brain is saying could have been done differently actually had been done differently, we very well could be here at this same place, this same day, or perhaps even have been here years earlier. 

We cannot go back. The little man in our head that would try to take us backward to re-live, to ask what if, and why not–he is a liar and has no solutions or answers to offer. It’s ok to tell him to shut up. 

What about God? Those who give God credit for all the good in their lives at times like these naturally may blame God for the heartache as well. Whether one follows the God of the Old Testament–who still considered David his favorite in spite of their arguments–or the God of the New Testament who withstood Jesus’ doubts and second-guessing in the Garden of Gethsemane, your God can take it. 

You would not be the first to question, to doubt, even to curse God, and certainly not the last. Millions have before and millions will in the future, without any likelihood that God is surprised that people in loss are so angry and without any risk that God is going to run away to avoid having to hear it. 

Others who do not view the world through the lens of a Creator God may be equally disenchanted and disheartened, but have no direction in which to channel their anger. They may despair that “it is what it is.” That there is no better way, no better place, no room for grace. 

I remember when last time I was in this same city with you all, for our matriarch’s 90th birthday party. As far as I can tell none of us having gotten any younger. (Except maybe for Laura over there.)  

As we grieve the loss of Cindy today, look around. Someone else here may be the next person taken from us sooner than we planned, sooner than expected, before we have had time to say the healing things we wanted to say, to put petty slights behind us and move forward. 

In the end–whether a believer, agnostic, or atheist–it is all we really can do: look forward. Taking with us the memories that are happy, but leaving in this place all second-guessing. Whether of ourselves or others.  

When the little man in our head begs us to follow him back down the perilous path of what might have been, tell him simply, “It is finished.” 

Our time on this planet is a limited one and it grows more limited by the minute.

As British saints Paul and John cautioned us in their lyrics, “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend.” All we can do and what we must do is channel our grief, our anger, and all the other emotions, into creating more love among those that remain. 

Find a friend or family member with whom we nurse some grudge or bear some resentment, or whose Facebook posts drive us absolutely insane, and nonetheless choose to love them and be loved by them. In all our glorious imperfection. 

It drives that despicable little man in our head absolutely crazy. Which is ok. 

The 46th Psalm: 

       God is our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved,  and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea;

       Though the waters thereof rage and swell,  and though the mountains shake at the tempest of the same. 

       There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most Highest. God is in the midst of her, therefore shall she not be removed;  God shall help her, and that right early. 

       Be still then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, and I will be exalted in the earth. 

       The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. 


      GOD, whose days are without end, we are reminded of the shortness and uncertainty of life, deeply grieved by the loss of dear, precious Cindy. 

       We are angry that we have lost her so soon, at how much she suffered, and fear we will be forever scarred by our helplessness in the face of it all. 

      Grant us and Cindy that peace and rest that so often has escaped us. Rescue us from the might-have-beens, the should haves, and what ifs that threaten to entangle us and keep us drowned in grief.  

       Give us the strength to tell that detestable naysayer in the back of our brains to sit down and shut up. 

      Perhaps most difficult of all, we ask your assistance in turning our swords into plowshares, in fashioning grief that is a lump of coal, or worse, into a diamond–of greater love and friendship for those of us who remain. 

      Give us the humility and strength to embrace those around us with all the faults we know all too well they have, in the hope that friends and family can likewise hold their noses and embrace us in spite of what failed, unreliable, quirky, and impatient creatures they know us to be. 

      God of mercies and giver of comfort: deal graciously, we pray, with all those who mourn, that casting every care on you, they may know the consolation of your love.  

       Show us light in this great darkness, lead us to hope though we may swear that none exists, and grant us the peace that passes understanding that we may share it with others suffering around us. 


[Note: some of you who know me best may think that you have not heard me speak in these sorts of deeply religious tones for many years. I would respond that I believe in helping people to find comfort where they are, not where we might judge that they should be.]

The Great Email Melodrama

Whether you consider it Emailgate or merely “those damn emails,” the Hillary Clinton private server scandal has ended not with a bang but a whimper. It was laid to rest by FBI Director James Comey, though with some heavy-duty shaming along the way. Director Comey also is a former George W. Bush administration official whose fairness will be questioned only by those gullible enough to believe Santa Claus is secretly a member of the Illuminati.

Comey’s conclusion that “no reasonable prosecutor” would pursue criminal charges under these circumstances was as great a relief to the Clinton camp as it was a disappointment to Trump’s team (and, yes, to many in Bernie World). The FBI director’s findings were the equivalent of the difference between a Texan driving drunk versus texting while driving. Both are stupid and dangerous, but the former is always illegal; texting generally is prosecuted only after a crash.

As Comey intimated, the level of carelessness shown might get a federal employee disciplined or fired, or her security clearance yanked (which can in turn mean being fired), but not put in jail. Donald Trump frequently has — and will again — cite the situation of former CIA Director David Petraeus as someone treated more harshly than Hillary. Petraeus pleaded guilty to misdemeanor removal and retention of classified information, serving probation rather than jail time and paying a $100,000 fine.

The difference is this: Hillary and her staff were careless with classified information. They did the equivalent of leaving it sitting on a car seat while in the grocery store. Petraeus arguably traded sex for classified information — turning over notebooks of secret material to his mistress for her use in writing his biography. As with the Petraeus situation, there is no proof that classified information from Hillary’s emails with her staff reached our enemies, but Hillary’s situation did not open her to the risk of blackmail.

Though in other respects irrational, why Petraeus would break the law to help his mistress/biographer is not difficult to discern. Figuring out what Hillary was thinking would require many more layers of psychoanalysis. Was she so scarred from her husband’s scandals and the resulting scrutiny that she put perceived privacy above security? Or so technically illiterate (as some of her staff suggested) that she did not comprehend the significance of her actions? Her repeated claims about not sending material “marked as classified” is lawyerese at its worst.

Whatever the root cause, Clinton needs to figure it out, identify it to the voters and explain how the same character flaw will not cause more trouble in the future. The FBI’s findings must lead her to include more in her inner circle who are willing to challenge and question her decisions. As many people as knew of the private email server situation, surely at least one must have questioned it —but apparently not loudly enough or with enough pull to get her attention. I nominate Elizabeth Warren to play the not-easily-silenced-devil’s-advocate (and VP) role for Clinton.

A 2007 scandal over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys led to the discovery that presidential adviser Karl Rove and others used a private server for government business, with millions of emails having been “disappeared.” No jail time there either. So this is not the first chapter in the email scandal book, but please, dear leaders, let it be the last. As if we needed a final touch of irony for this Shakespearean-quality drama, Obama last week signed a law strengthening the Freedom of Information Act.

This originally appeared in the July 6, 2016 Waco Tribune-Herald.

Der Donald Trump is Unlike Der Führer

Friends, Americans, citizens, lend me your eyes. I come to praise Donald Trump, not to compare him to Adolf Hitler. The Donald is no Adolf Hitler:

  • 10291112_1532231767070776_2951155574295941277_nAdolf Hitler was a narcissistic megalomaniac. Trump described himself to Us Weekly staff as “actually very modest.”
  • Hitler’s manifesto is titled Mein Kampf. Trump’s next book is not (instead, “My Fight”).
  • Hitler fanned flames of hatred against the Jews with wild conspiracies. Jews are not Trump’s scapegoat and he merely accused President Obama of secretly supporting terrorism.
  • Hitler took advantage of a national tragedy (Reichstag fire) to grab power. Trump has not burned down the U.S. Capitol.
  • Hitler’s purge led Jews to flee his country. Trump instead wants to ban Muslims from entering.
  • Hitler married a former model from Munich. Trump instead is married to a former model from Sevnica.
  • Hitler grew up in the Catholic church and asserted he acted in accordance with the will of God. Trump by contrast is a former Catholic, now associated with the Presbyterian church, and had 30 evangelical leaders pray over him.
  • Hitler believed women should stay at home and raise the next generation of pure-bred Germans. Trump is fine with women working, even as journalists, so long as they’ve (and I quote here) “got a young and beautiful piece of a–.”
  • Hitler had Kurt Von Schleicher killed in the Night of the Long Knives. Trump probably has not yet read my columns.
  • Hitler snubbed African-American medal winner Cornelius Johnson at the 1936 Olympics. Trump simply labelled African-American election winner Barack Obama as having faked his American birth certificate.
  • Hitler had really bad brown hair. Trump’s hair is orange.
  • Hitler liked to paint in his free time. Trump prefers remote-controlled cars.
  • Hitler often cited wrongdoing by the Communists of Russia to justify his actions. Trump likes Putin, blames the Communists in China for our woes.
  • Hitler made the National Socialist German Workers Party famous with his oratory skills and ability to attract new members. Trump only has drawn new people to the GOP.
  • U.S. white supremacists are not able to vote for Adolf Hitler.
  • Hitler often praised German veterans. Donald Trump instead criticized former prisoner of war and torture victim John McCain for having been captured.
  • Donald Trump never promised to make Germany great again.
  • As a March 13, 2012 article in The Atlantic noted, early press coverage of Hitler misjudged him as a clown, a caricature of himself who could never get elected. Trump instead is now viewed as someone who might get elected.
  • British political leader Neville Chamberlain described the result of his treaty negotiations with Hitler as providing “Peace for our time.” GOP chair Reince Priebus is still seeking a peace treaty between Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan.
  • The #neverHitler effort failed miserably; #neverTrump still has a chance.
  • Hitler used slave labor to build the Atlantic Wall to prevent an invasion from Great Britain. Trump does not fear a British invasion and will make Mexico pay for his wall.
  • Hitler made a 1939 pact with Stalin that he later broke. Trump, however, plans to honor the terms of any deal with Putin, calling him a great leader as compared to us having a “pathetic” president.
  • Hitler served in the Bavarian Army during World War I, while Trump entirely avoided service in Vietnam with student deferments and purported “bone spurs in his heels.”
  • Hitler lost his first presidential run, in 1932; Trump plans to win in 2016.

In summary, stop this Trump-is-Hitler nonsense. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?


By David R. Schleicher. (c) 2016. This column originally appeared in the Sunday, June 19, 2016 Waco Tribune-Herald.

The Unintended Trumpiness of It All

As Yogi Berra almost said, “The road to Purgatory is paved with unintended consequences.” On that note, our crack research team uncovered these surprising consequences (both good and bad) from The Most Glorious Campaign for President of Supreme Leader Donald Trump:

• The universe is expanding 5 to 9 percent faster than expected, according to a June announcement from NASA and the European Space Agency. This is hypothesized to be from the increase in dark energy since The Donald began his campaign.

• President Obama is popular.

• There was an uptick in sales tax revenue in San Jose, California, from purchases of eggs, Mexican flags, matches and police tactical gear.

• The FBI has opened an investigation into a series of secret payments from the Clinton Foundation to The Donald, dating back to a phone call in which Bill Clinton encouraged Trump to run for president.

• Unemployment is down in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, due to heavy demand for American flag pins, “Make America Great Again” hats and “Made in the USA” labels.

• In follow-up to Trump’s assertion in Redding, California, on June 3 that “I have an African-American,” his campaign also has released a list of the three persons of Hispanic heritage who might vote for him.

• The economy in Cleveland is experiencing a temporary surge as hotels collect a bounty in cancellation fees from GOP convention delegates.

• Wyeth, Ltd. stock has skyrocketed from Ativan sales to the offices of Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

• Google reports 1,215 searches of “Can a federal judge appointed by a Republican president ethically and legally contribute to Hillary’s campaign?”

• Alliant Techsystems saw a 4 percent increase in first-quarter profits on the heels of a $40 million order for land mines from the Canadian Department of National Defence.

• Dictators world-wide are expressing relief that the Anonymous hackers collective has shifted its focus from them to obtaining The Donald’s tax returns.

• Ken Starr’s car is sporting a “Love the Clintons” bumper sticker.

• Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Cuban-born senior member of the Florida congressional delegation and #neverTrump club member, introduced a bill to provide space in Arlington National Cemetery for the Republican Party. [The Trump campaign countered that they have proof that Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s mother exchanged numerous emails with Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald during his visit to Cuba.]

• Hillary Clinton has petitioned a court to change her name to “NOT DONALD TRUMP” in advance of November election ballots being issued.

• shares on the question, “Will the U.S. make it to its 250th birthday?” are trading at an even 50 cents.

• Radio show host Alex Jones’ Internet browsing history has turned up multiple searches of “When will Plumb Book be released?”

• Jones revealed plans to buy “” in the event of a Trump victory, adding to his collection of existing domains (, and

• The CIA has leaked/denied that Trump requested an advance security clearance review for a “John Barron” to serve as the agency’s next director.

• The Chronicle of Higher Education reports an 80 percent decrease in students wanting to major in journalism.

• U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services added a check box to the H-1B visa application form for “I am a female model from Eastern Europe and wish to be appointed to be a member of the President’s cabinet.”

Financial Interest Disclosure: I have bet Waco resident David McLatcher $10 that Trump will lose the election and several times unsuccessfully attempted to get him to double the amount at stake.

This column originally appeared in the June 7, 2016 Waco Tribune-Herald, where David is a member of the Board of Contributors.

Overtime Overhaul: 5 Takeaways

Whether you love or hate the U.S. Department of Labor’s new overtime rules, with $1.2 billion a year expected to shift from employers to employees, they are proof positive the government can change lives dramatically. Those shouts of joy you hear are employees finding out they are getting a raise or will work fewer hours without a cut in pay. The screams of anguish are from those employers who already were barely breaking even and now wonder how they’ll pay for it all.

Here are five takeaways from the May 2016 overtime rule changes:

Make less than $47,476 a year? Come Dec. 1 you likely will be eligible for overtime (1.5 times your usual hourly rate) for time worked in excess of 40 hours a week. Compare that to the prior $23,660 floor before the “white collar” work overtime exemption might kick in. (Note some forms of bonuses/commissions now can count as up to 10 percent of the $47,476.)

But… are you a teacher/professor, academic administrator, doctor, lawyer, judge or outside sales rep? Then you are likely not eligible for overtime regardless of your salary. However, grad student and post-doctoral researchers making less than $47,476 now are likely to be overtime eligible.

When do an employee’s duties become irrelevant to whether overtime applies? There’s no overtime for those paid over $134,004, previously $100,000.

Can an employer lower base pay for future work so that even with overtime pay the total yearly paid an employee does not increase? Yes, if the employer is willing to risk ticking off workers in a relatively tight job market (5 percent national unemployment rate).

How did such a major change happen without legislation? The new floor is based on a percentage of current average wages (for the lowest-paying region of the country, the South). In many past decades the salary threshold went unchanged, in disregard of inflation and increases in national average wages. The figures now will get updated every three years.

Even without these changes, overtime rules were complex, such as determining whether they applied to an employer as an organization (at least $500,000 annual gross revenues for most types of employers) or nonetheless applied to particular employees. The Labor Department considers an employee to be involved in interstate commerce (and so potentially subject to overtime) even if just regularly making telephone calls to other states. With overtime suits all the rage, employers may be making a losing bet to assume they are among the select few who are exempt as an entity and have all their employees exempt too.

The rules do not affect the federal minimum wage, at $7.25/hour (about $15,000/year) since 2009. It would have to be around $11/hour to equal the buying power of what the minimum wage in the 1960s offered, per the Labor Department. With Hillary Clinton supporting a phased-in minimum wage increase to $15/hour and Donald Trump alternating between support for raising, lowering and preserving the current rate, expect it to continue to be a hot topic.

In the meantime, feel free to continue to argue about whether the new overtime rules are an improvement. Just don’t tell me that nothing ever gets done in Washington, given this parting gift from President Obama to those who might have thought the American Dream of the middle class had left them behind.

Texas grocer H-E-B offered comments to the proposed rule supporting the bump in the minimum salary threshold, explaining that it already paid “competitive wages.” It is among those rare employers who have learned that higher wages can be as important to competing as are lower prices.

> David Schleicher is an attorney with offices in Waco, D.C. and Houston.

As originally appearing in Waco Tribune-Herald, page A8, Sunday, May 22, 2016.

Trump’s HUGE convention

The convention center floor will be surrounded on all sides by a giant opaque glass wall, serving in lieu of projection screens. Deemed the only one enough of a lightweight to pull it off, throughout the proceedings and high above the crowd on a red velvet seat, Marco Rubio will swing to and fro, dressed in frilly knickers.

Day One: The convention opens as Nickleback’s “Burn it to the Ground” plays over loudspeakers (all other rock groups having obtained court orders against The Donald using their music for his campaign). Then silence.

As the attendees sit in rapt attention, little people dressed in tuxedos and ball gowns skip in from each side toward the middle, singing “We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.” They join hands in a circle around the center ring. Again silence. Darkness. A pause.

Suddenly bright, giant images are flashed on the inside of the glass wall surrounding the delegates: Undocumented immigrants crossing rivers with weapons in their hands. Pictures of Chinese merchants in ancient garb but shown pickpocketing hardworking Americans. Generic death metal music plays. Images fade as Lee Green’s “God Bless the USA” plays.

Then an image of a cackling Hillary Clinton on a broom zooms around the wall, holographic monkeys flying behind her. Booing by delegates allows time to fade to silence. Complete darkness. Spotlight above center ring as a cloud of fog dissipates to reveal The Donald slowly descending from above in a white robe, a laurel wreath holding his hair in place. A familiar musical fanfare by Richard Strauss plays as Donald gestures a blessing on the congregation.

“DONALD! DONALD! DONALD!” the delegates exclaim in ecstasy as he is lowered to the ground, with no visible means of support. Now, “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!” He motions for them to quiet. The Donald speaks. “The man who has no sense of history is like a man who has no ears or eyes. Strength lies not in defense but in attack. How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.” The delegates: “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!”

The Donald: “With a single blow we must destroy the enemy . . . without regard of losses . . . a gigantic all-destroying blow. Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination.” The delegates: “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!”

The Donald: “I love the women. Ladies, I want your vote and I love you.” The circle of little people around him drops beneath the floor, then returns, this time full of beauty queens (Miss Armenia, Miss Estonia, Ms. Latvia, Ms. Lithuania, etc.). Announcer: “Thank you, Mr. Putin, for providing our hostesses tonight!” Male delegates hoot, whistle and cheer. The Donald: “I love the ladies and they love me, lots of love from their hearts. Wherevers.”

Darkness. A long silence as the set is changed. Lights back on. Pan the crowd, showing convention center now is mysteriously uncrowded (assume many of the female delegates will have left). The Donald: “Magic! I made them disappear! I’ll do the same to Hillary and every other enemy of America.” Crowd applauds in a deafening roar.

A helicopter appears from above, barely missing the still-swinging Marco, lands and takes The Donald away. Day One of the convention ends. Pan crowd to show delegates weeping at departure of their great leader.

Day Two: Hunger Games to select vice-presidential candidate.

Day Three: a coliseum look. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush released into center ring to face off against each other and then a lion.

Day Four: Dennis Rodman, Coach Bobby Knight and other athletes explain The Donald’s foreign policy positions.

Day Five — closing night: Delegates wear large foam hands reading, “Make America Giant Again.” Ben Carson offers closing prayer. Trump tells delegates he loves them and says to “now, go out there and beat the sh– out of those protesters!”

Estimated cost: $3 million, assuming use of undocumented workers. Initial audience testing will confirm it went over bigly with The Donald (and even with The Hillary). But Paul Ryan is seen running to the restroom with his hands over his mouth.

David Schleicher is an attorney with offices in Waco, D.C. and Houston and member of the Waco Tribune-Herald Board of Contributors. This piece originally appeared in the May 10, 2016 paper.

Open Letter on Open Government

Dear U.S. Sen. John Cornyn:

You and I spoke once on a flight between D.C. and Dallas about a rare bipartisan issue — the importance of freedom of information in promoting government transparency and accountability. Your leadership on this topic has been critical to ensuring citizens know what their government is doing and can serve as a check on waste, fraud and abuse.

I write now because my work representing federal employees around the country has brought to my attention a threat by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to such efforts. As you know, many times it is federal employees who are in the best position to observe and report wrongdoing and inappropriate expenditures of our tax dollars. Last week I encountered two incidents involving employees of different DHS components in different parts of the country:

• An employee’s being given a written counseling for forwarding to a home email account a work email that addressed only routine administrative work and not any Privacy Act information about other staff, nor any classified or law enforcement matters. While a written counseling is not considered formal discipline, I have seen them used to justify a more serious penalty later and giving a failing performance appraisal.

• A supervisor’s inclusion of this warning in even the most routine emails:

WARNING: This document may contain information exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 USC 552). This document is to be controlled, handled, transmitted, distributed and disposed of in accordance with Department of Homeland Security policy relating to FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY (FOUO) information and is not to be released to the public or personnel who do not have a valid “need to know” without prior approval from the originating agency.

The President’s Nov. 4, 2010, Executive Order 13556 on “Controlled Unclassified Information” (CUI) was a valuable start toward standardizing practices for control of sensitive information while avoiding a level of safeguarding that stymies public scrutiny. But now, more than five years later, a look at these directives confirms that the effort is stalled. For example, the link for regulations on CUI is noted with “PLACEHOLDER,” as is the CUI “Marking Handbook.” Proposed rules were issued May 8, 2015 but have no effect until finally adopted.

As shown by the written employee counseling and FOUO signature block, agencies like Homeland Security allow managers to act based on impulse, not uniform policy. I must wonder if a federal employee who receives a sexually harassing email is prohibited from forwarding that email home so that she has a record of it. Similarly, if a DHS employee receives an email from a supervisor that describes plans to spend $10 million on a lavish conference in Las Vegas, is it misconduct for him to forward the message to a Washington Post reporter if his supervisor included a signature block designating the email as “For Official Use Only”?

Existing laws against whistleblower and EEO retaliation help little if potential whistleblowers do not report in the first place after hearing that a colleague has been disciplined for disclosing an email that covered something as routine as scheduling an administrative meeting.

I request you ask DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson whether he considers the matters I describe above to appropriately reflect DHS policy. Please also ask that the National Archives and White House identify the expected date for adoption of final CUI regulations. Your involvement in these matters can prevent your good work on FOIA issues from being subverted.