Despite lofty claims, the Administration of Barack Obama has left much to be desired in the transparency department. The Administration has been called out for abusing White House Press pool reporters in recent weeks and, throughout the President’s tenure, has been criticized for not forcing Federal compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests.
Non-partisan group Cause of Action submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to 16 different Federal agencies in April 2012 concerning spending on promotional items between January 2009 and April 2012. The organization then kept a log of which agencies complied and which did not, determining that the Obama-led government scores only a “C-” in terms of FOIA compliance.
Cause of Action reports:
- As of February 2013: Cause of Action received 114 individual responses from offices within 16 different agencies.
- 29 offices, or 25 percent, have not provided any production.
- 26 offices, or 22 percent of total responders, took longer than 90 days to provide a response.
- For the 86 offices that produced documents, the average response time was 75 business days with a median of 63 days, a figure more than double the 30 day window established by the Freedom of Information Act.
The least FOIA-compliant government agencies were the Department of Commerce and the Defense Department, both receiving a grade of “F” for not responding. The sole “A” was given to the Education Department for delivering requested documents in a timely manner with no unnecessary redactions or cost to the inquirer. The Departments of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency each received a score of “B.”
Other agency grades in terms of transparency were:
“What Grading the Government shows is an inconsistency at best, and a failure at worst, by federal agencies in not just compliance with the President’s pledge for transparency, but compliance with basic FOIA protocol,” said Dan Epstein, Cause of Action executive director. “Failure by these agencies to disclose documents is a failure in their service to the American taxpayers who fund them and rely on them to be accountable and transparent.”
A similar review by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) released in December showed that Federal agencies were being sued for information under FOIA more times during the first Obama term than during the final four years of the George W. Bush Administration. The suits result when the agencies either take an unreasonable amount of time to produce information requested under FOIA or outright deny access.
In all, the FOIA lawsuits jumped by 28 percent, with the most drastic increases in suits being filed against the State Department (111 percent), Department of Agriculture (67 percent), Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Veterans Affairs (60 percent), as well as the Department of Justice (50 percent).
Given the number of FOIA lawsuits TRAC cites, it almost seems as if Cause of Action graded the current Presidential Administration on a curve.