Opinion: An Obama secret: They’re rejecting more Freedom of Information requests than those secretive Bush folks


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Here’s a not-so-tiny tidbit of data that’s getting lost in the White House-driven public frenzy over healthcare legislation this week:

The White House Democratic administration of Barack Obama, who denounced his presidential predecessor George W. Bush as the most secretive in history, is now denying more Freedom of Information Act requests than the Republican did.


Transparency and openness were deemed so important to the new president that on his first full day in office last year he dispatched a memo to all federal agencies saying:

Transparency and openness were so important to the new president that on his first full day in office last year, he dispatched a much-publicized memo throughout the federal government saying: All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

That was the same day he issued an executive order promising to shut the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by the end of calendar 2009, which hasn’t happened yet either.

One of the exemptions allowed to deny Freedom of Information requests has been

...used by the Obama administration 70,779 times in its first year, while the same exemption was used 47,395 times in Bush’s final budget year.

An Associated Press examination of 17 major agencies’ handling of FOIA requests found denials 466,872 times, an increase of nearly 50% from the 2008 fiscal year under Bush.

As the thorough Ed Morrissey points out over here, during a time of war and terrorist threats, any government can justify not releasing some sensitive information. And true, Obama’s always been a legislator, not an executive.

But why despite advance warnings about the realities of governing make such a big campaign deal over a previous administration’s secrecy (not to mention Guantanamo) when you’re going to end up being even more secretive?

And invite inevitable charges of hypocrisy and even more empty campaign promises?

Today to mark annual Sunshine Week, designed to promote openness in government, Obama applauded himself by issuing a statement:

As Sunshine Week begins, I want to applaud everyone who has worked to increase transparency in government and recommit my administration to be the most open and transparent ever, an effort that will strengthen our democracy and ensure the public’s trust in their government.

However, a new study out Monday by George Washington University’s National Security Archive finds less than one-third of the 90 federal agencies who process such FOIA requests have made significant changes in their procedures since Obama’s 2009 memo.

So, today in response, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel did what federal government chiefs of staff do: He sent out yet another memo. Since the agencies ignored the memo from the real president of the United States, they’ll probably all snap to when the Obama staffer’s note arrives, don’t you think?.

Related items:

Joe Biden meets with transparency chief, but the session is closed

Joe Biden update: Another closed day

About that Obama transparency: Today it’s more opacity

Joe Biden update: Iraq one of Obama’s ‘great achievements’

-- Andrew Malcolm

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