It’s a curious time for people who believe in transparency and openness in government.
they are for transparency. In 2013, President Obama boasted, “This is the most transparent administration in history.” But watch what his administration does
Today, it will issue new rules exempting a key administrative office that handles issues such as request for access to government email records from the Freedom of Information Act. That law is specifically designed to allow private parties to look at government documents that aren't privileged or involve national security.
Ironically, the nation celebrated FOIA just yesterday with National Freedom of Information Day. By the way, it’s also Sunshine Week in Washington, a celebration of transparency in government of the kind Obama likes to tout.
But in a move that seems more like an ironic joke, the Obama administration will publish a final rule this morning that will exempt the federal Office of Administration from FOIA. A final rule means there is no opportunity for the public to comment or appeal, and it has the force of law.
The Obama administration claims the move was born out of a lawsuit that began during the Bush presidency.
As The Hill newspaper reports: "Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued the office after being denied access to documents it had requested to obtain details about a slew of emails that had gone missing from White House servers.
"After a lengthy appeal, the court upheld the ruling that the Office of Administration, which advises and assists the president, is not an 'agency' as defined by the FOIA.
"Since it only 'performs only operational and administrative tasks in support of the president and his staff,' the court ruled in 2009, 'under our precedent, [the Office of Administration] lacks substantial independent authority.'
"The White House, which has not released any Office of Administration records under FOIA, used the ruling to defend the change."
But critics contend the Obama administration is under no obligation to change how the Office of Administration handles records requests, and the court ruling it cites is six
years old. That makes the timing of this move in the midst of the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s private emails quite curious.
“This step makes mockery of that commitment [to transparency], especially given that it's Sunshine Week. The White House has reversed a decades long practice of opening the files of OA to the public,” Anne Weismann, CREW’s senior counsel, said in a statement. “Apparently they have abandoned even the appearance of transparency.”
The Associated Press, which is suing the Obama State Department for access to emails from Hillary Clinton and her top aides, said the administration has an abysmal record of responding to record requests and often blacks out or redacts large chunks of documents it does release.
And it’s not just outside groups or citizens that the Obama administration is stonewalling. Last August, 47 out of 73 independent inspectors general wrote to Congress and issued a stark warning about their inability to carry out their oversight role in their agencies or departments. “Refusing, restricting, or delaying an Inspector General’s access to documents leads to incomplete, inaccurate, or significantly delayed findings or recommendations . . . even when we are ultimately able to resolve these issues with senior agency leadership, the process is often lengthy, delays our work, and diverts time and attention from substantive oversight activities.”
It’s not as if the inspectors general are a clique of obsessive members of the vast right-wing conspiracy. President Obama appointed the vast majority of them in office today, and all those who were appointed by him have been confirmed by a Democratic Senate.
The Obama administration’s penchant for secrecy and control is now drawing fire from not only liberal interest groups but its own appointees. No wonder Hillary Clinton did what she did. She knew she would fit right in.
John Fund is an expert on American politics where politics and economics and legal issues meet. He previously served as a columnist and editorial board member for The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of several books, including "Who's Counting: Bow Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote At Risk," "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy,” and "The Dangers of Regulation Through Litigation." He worked as a research analyst for the California Legislature in Sacramento before beginning his journalism career as a reporter for the syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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