The “most transparent administration in history” is anything but, according to a new analysis of data by The Associated Press:
The Obama administration set a new record again for more often than ever censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents, and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.
It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law – but only when it was challenged.
Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55 percent to more than 200,000. It also cut by 375, or about 9 percent, the number of full-time employees across government paid to look for records. That was the fewest number of employees working on the issue in five years.
These new government figures were published Tuesday. They covered all requests to 100 federal agencies during fiscal 2014 under the Freedom of Information law (FOIA).
FOIA is widely regarded as a model for transparent government. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can force the government to hand over copies of federal records for little to no cost.
Anyone who requests information under the law is supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy, or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas.
The government cited such exceptions a record 554,969 times last year.
Among citizens, journalists, businesses, and others, the law is more popular than ever: a record 714,231 requests for information were made in 2014.
The U.S. spent a record $434 million trying to keep up….and about $28 million on lawyers’ fees to cover things up.
More details from the AP:
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.
spin doctor spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House considers this a success:
“We actually do have a lot to brag about,” he said.
Of course HE would say that. If you use the
Spite White House’s fuzzy math, things DO look pretty good:
It routinely excludes from its assessment instances when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper under the law, and said under this calculation it released all or parts of records in 91 percent of requests.
91% is still a record low since Obama took office.
The U.S. is not supposed to withhold or censor information because it might be embarrassing, but that didn’t stop them:
In emails that AP obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration about who pays for Michelle Obama’s expensive dresses, the agency blacked-out a sentence under part of the law intended to shield personal, private information, such as Social Security numbers, phone numbers or home addresses. But it failed to censor the same passage on a subsequent page.
The sentence: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the WH (White House).”
The AP has filed hundreds of requests for government files. Chief executive Gary Pruitt said, “What we discovered reaffirmed what we have seen all too frequently in recent years. The systems created to give citizens information about their government are badly broken and getting worse all the time.”
Earlier this month, the AP sued the State Department to force the release of email correspondence and government documents from Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. The government had failed to turn over the files under repeated requests, including one made five years ago and others pending since the summer of 2013.
The average time the government takes to respond for information requests ranges from one day to 2.5 years. More than half of federal agencies took longer to answer requests last year than the prior year.
Journalists fared worse than ever:
Under the law, the U.S. is required to move urgent requests from journalists to the front of the line for a speedy answer if records will inform the public concerning an actual or alleged government activity. But the government now routinely denies such requests: Over six years, the number of requests granted speedy processing status fell from nearly half to fewer than 1 in 8. In January, the U.S. reminded agencies that it should carefully consider such “breaking news” requests.
Over the last two years, the CIA has denied EVERY such request.
This week is Sunshine Week, a time when transparency advocates push for a more open government and greater compliance with FOIA.
Two days ago, the Obama administration announced that it is deleting regulations that subjected the White House Office of Administration to FOIA.
On Tuesday, Ernest said the rule change was simply a matter of “cleaning up” outdated regulations. He claimed making the announcement during Sunshine Week was not intentional.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington criticized the White House for its decision, saying it reversed a decades-long practice of opening office’s files to the public:
“This step makes mockery of the administration’s commitment to transparency, especially given that it’s Sunshine Week,” CREW executive director Anne Weismann said in a statement on Tuesday. “Apparently they have abandoned even the appearance of transparency.”
Earnest defended Obama’s commitment to openness, saying the rule change is “cleanly in line with the kind of priority that this administration has placed on transparency.”
We can’t argue with that. It sure does seem “in line with” this administration’s “transparency” priorities.
“Hope” and “Change” have become “Nope” and “Rearrange.”
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Lily Dane is a staff writer for The Daily Sheeple. Her goal is to help people to “Wake the Flock Up!”