Watch CBSN Live

Crossing a Line in the Health Care Debate?

Richard Grenell served as the spokesman for the last four U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations: Zalmay Khalilzad, John Bolton, John Danforth and John Negroponte. He writes a blog Without the Filter.

The White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle has been feverishly sending out unsolicited email messages to federal employees in an effort to build support for President Barack Obama's health reform package over the last several weeks.

DeParle's unsolicited emails have been regularly coming to some federal employees' official government email inboxes for weeks without permission or request, causing some federal employees to feel threatened by the overt political language.

The Department of State employees, who receive hundreds of official government emails every day, have complained about the annoying and partisan emails but are nervous to go public for fear of retribution. The emails are addressed to the federal employees by name and use the official .gov address.

The unsolicited emails also request that the federal employees take action in order to ensure that Obama's health reform package is passed and the federal budget isn't at risk for bankruptcy. One federal employee was so concerned about DeParle's language in one email that he questioned whether his department's budget would be cut or eliminated without passage of Obama's bill. DeParle uses scare tactics that some assume are meant as threats:

"No ifs, ands or buts about it -- if we do nothing to reform our broken health care system, costs will continue to skyrocket and break the budgets of American families, small businesses and the Federal Government," read the March 12th email from DeParle.

But should federal employees be subjected to partisan propaganda? What precedent does it send for the White House to use the federal work force for their partisan agenda? And shouldn't we let State Department federal workers concentrate on pressing issues like the Israeli-Palestinian issue or the Iranian nuclear weapons issue? Why would Department of Transportation employees have to worry about forwarding The White House's partisan emails to their address books?

Federal employees are public servants not partisan foot soldiers for President Obama and shouldn't have to decide whether a partisan White House request can be ignored without consequences.

DeParle's solicitation requests federal employees act on behalf of the President's agenda by making this directive: "You can help raise awareness by sharing this email with your friends, family and online networks," read the March 11th email from DeParle.

But what would happen if the federal employee doesn't act in the way The White House is suggesting? Would there be retribution? Has The White House requested that another federal agency monitor who is acting on behalf of Obama's health reform bill and who is not?

Turning the President's partisan agenda into White House directives to the federal workforce has crossed the line and should be stopped immediately.

updated 7:20 p.m. 3/20/10

Editor's note: The White House is disputing a claim in this article that e-mails are being sent to people who don't want them. The communications director for the Office of Health Reform, Linda Douglass, said Grenell's assertions are "inaccurate."

"Emailed updates about health insurance reform legislation are sent periodically to members of the public who sign up to receive them. No one is sent unsolicited emails. Mr. Grenell would have learned this if he had called the White House to ask who receives the emails, but he did not contact us before writing. The assertions made in his column are inaccurate," Douglass said in a statement.

On Saturday, Grinell responded to criticism of his article in a blog post at his blog Without the Filter.

"Media Matters, the defender of liberal media, today jumped into the developing controversy and debate over White House Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle's unsolicited White House emails to federal employees. Media Matters scolds and makes fun of CBS News and Fox News for highlighting the issue, calling the claims "pure speculation". Ironically, Media Matters doesn't deny that the unsolicited emails have been sent but rather they defend the emails by saying, "it appears they are sent out to everyone on the mailing list." Well, duh. That's the problem. Why are federal employees on the email list? And why are federal employees being hounded to do the White House's political bidding for a trillion dollar entitlement program?

Building support for President Barack Obama's health reform package by sending consecutive emails to federal employees' official government email inboxes and instructing them to forward the emails to their "friends, family and online networks" is not only unethical but possibly illegal.

Media Matters also complains that the story has no anonymous quotes from frustrated federal employees in order to prove the story. Which is a fair point. I'll give them that. So here are two anonymous quotes from State Department employees that didn't sign up for the White House emails but are still receiving political musings from Nancy-Ann DeParle and the White House"

By Richard Grenell
Special to

View CBS News In