FOIA lawsuits mount for ‘most transparent administration in history’

Barack Obama often refers to the historical aspect of many of his actions as President of the United States. Among these actions are “the toughest transparency rules of any administration in history… in history.”

Don’t take my word for it…

It’s almost ironic that Obama mentions his commitment to “rein in exploding deficits” in the same clip. His record in both areas is similar.

Obama campaigned on the promise of a new standard of transparency and once in office, instructed federal agencies to “adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and to usher in a new era of open Government,” as noted in a White House memorandum.

Another memorandum from the President, Transparency and Open Government, opens with;

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.”

Amid laughter in the room, Obama’s then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced in April 2010 that “this is the most transparent administration in the history of our country.”

White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said in July that the Obama administration “has been the most transparent ever.”

But an analysis of government requests filed by Bloomberg News has found an alarming number of transparency violations, particularly when it comes to the taxpayer-funded cost of travel by top officials.

The analysis reports that nineteen out of 20 cabinet-level agencies under the Obama administration have failed to follow the requirements of FOIA.

Bloomberg also reports that just as in most areas of government, FOIA personnel have grown under Obama, from 3,691 full-time personnel across all departments and agencies in 2008 to 4,400 in 2011, an increased of 19 percent.

In the face of all this, Washington Free Beacon columnist CJ Ciaramella reports that the number of FOIA lawsuits filed against the federal government has increased dramatically under the Obama administration.

The report points out that the number of FOIA lawsuits filed against the State Department rose by 111 percent in a two year period, by 60 percent against both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and by 50 percent at the Department of Justice.

Ciaramella suggests that federal agencies have largely ignored the executive branch’s directives and memos, particularly when it comes to updating regulations and complying with FOIA, giving reason to question Obama’s commitment here.

In that light, the report ends on a damning note, quoting Katherine Meyer, a Washington lawyer who’s been filing FOIA cases since 1978, who told Politico in March 2012:

“Obama is the sixth administration that’s been in office since I’ve been doing Freedom of Information Act work. … It’s kind of shocking to me to say this, but of the six, this administration is the worst on FOIA issues. The worst. There’s just no question about it.This administration is raising one barrier after another. … It’s gotten to the point where I’m stunned—I’m really stunned.”


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Tom Tillison


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