Report: Obama Administration Skirted FOIA From the Start

Thursday, 20 Mar 2014 02:32 PM

By Aaron Stern

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A new report says the Obama administration moved to obstruct transparency shortly after the president took office in 2009, the Washington Examiner reported.

President Barack Obama promised a culture of transparency when he took office, but conservative government watchdog Cause of Action released a report Tuesday that says a previously overlooked 2009 memo from then-White House Counsel Greg Craig promoted a culture of opaqueness surrounding requests made through the Freedom of Information Act.

That memo directed executive branch officials to scrutinize any documents sought in FOIA requests that involved so-called "White House equities."That exception gave the White House more leverage to redact or deny FOIA requests, according to the Cause of Action report.

"FOIA is designed to inform the public on government behavior; White House equities allow the government to withhold information from the media, and therefore the public, by having media requests forwarded for review," the report states. "This not only politicizes federal agencies, it impairs fundamental First Amendment liberties."

The Cause of Action analysis follows a report last week by the Associated Press that the Obama Administration either censored or denied requests for information made under the Freedom of Information Act in 2013 more than ever before.

A record 704,394 requests for information were made last year, up 8 percent from the previous year, according to the AP. The government responded to 96 percent of those requests, but "censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 244,675 cases or 36 percent of all requests."

That included 8,496 times that the government denied requests citing national security – a 57 percent increase of such denials over 2012. That request was likely related to requests spurred by the revelation of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, according to the AP.

The AP also found that the National Security Agency censored or outright denied 98 percent of the FOIA requests it received. The Cause of Action report comes during Sunshine Week, a non-profit effort to raise awareness of the effort to ease access to public information.

The intense scrutiny of FOIA requests shows a stark contrast between pledges made by then-candidate Obama and his presidential administration.

"The government's own figures from 99 federal agencies covering six years show that half way through its second term, the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records despite its promises from Day 1 to become the most transparent administration in history," the AP wrote.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz told the AP that the Obama White House was improving the federal government’s transparency processes.

"Over the past five years, federal agencies have worked aggressively to improve their responsiveness to FOIA requests, applying a presumption of openness and making it a priority to respond quickly," Schultz told the news service.

Related Stories:

US Navy Memo on Dodging Requests Mistakenly Sent to Reporter
Judges Rebuff Justice Dept. in 3 FOIA Cases

 

 


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