Although President Obama describes his administration as “the most transparent in history,” a new analysis by the Associated Press (AP) finds that, “The Obama administration set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.”
FOIA failings identified by AP include:
- The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.
- It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law – but only when it was challenged.
- Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55 percent to more than 200,000. It also cut by 375, or about 9 percent, the number of full-time employees across government paid to look for records. That was the fewest number of employees working on the issue in five years.
- It more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 250,581 cases or 39 percent of all requests.
- On 215,584 other occasions, the government said it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the government determined the request to be unreasonable or improper.
- Under the president’s instructions, the U.S. should not withhold or censor government files merely because they might be embarrassing, but federal employees last year regularly misapplied the law.
- The government’s responsiveness under the open records law is an important measure of its transparency. . . .Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas. It cited such exceptions a record 554,969 times last year.
- “What we discovered reaffirmed what we have seen all too frequently in recent years,” [AP chief executive Gary] Pruitt wrote in a column published this week. “The systems created to give citizens information about their government are badly broken and getting worse all the time.”