Happy Sunshine Week!
So much for The Most Open and Transparent Administration in the History of the World©.”
Analysis by the Associated Press shows that last year the Obama Administration set a new record for either denying access to or censoring government documents when responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
From the AP:
The government’s new figures, published Tuesday, covered all requests to 100 federal agencies during fiscal 2014 under the Freedom of Information law, which is heralded globally as a model for transparent government. They showed that despite disappointments and failed promises by the White House to make meaningful improvements in the way it releases records, the law was more popular than ever. Citizens, journalists, businesses and others made a record 714,231 requests for information. The U.S. spent a record $434 million trying to keep up. It also spent about $28 million on lawyers’ fees to keep records secret.
The new figures showed the government responded to 647,142 requests, a 4 percent decrease over the previous year. It more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 250,581 cases or 39 percent of all requests. Sometimes, the government censored only a few words or an employee’s phone number, but other times it completely marked out nearly every paragraph on pages.
On 215,584 other occasions, the government said it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the government determined the request to be unreasonable or improper.
In 1 in 3 cases, the Administration admitted when challenged that denials of open records requests were improper under the law. Officials also took longer than previous Administrations to process requests, replied saying they had lost or could not find the requested material, and, according to the AP, “refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.”
This report hit just two days after the White House made the call to remove its Office of Information from underneath the FOIA umbrella.
The Administration has legal precedent for the move; in 2009, a federal appeals court ruled that the White House was required to archive documentation from the Office of Information, but that it was not discoverable under FOIA laws. Instead, e-mails and other documents are covered under the Presidential Records Act, but aren’t required to be released until 5 years after the end of the applicable administration.
This year, a bipartisan coalition in the Senate introduced the FOIA Improvement Act, which would require federal agencies to operate under a “presumption of openness” and cut down on exemptions to open records laws.
As of right now, though, it’s unclear whether or not this once-sure thing bill will pass muster with the White House. If they’re exempting themselves from FOIA regulations, why would we believe they’d be willing to open up their agencies to further scrutiny?DONATE
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