Don’t you wonder what our government is up to? As an American taxpayer, you have a right to know. But while requests for information from the government under the Freedom of Information Act have increased, fewer agencies are sharing information.
We pay their salaries, yet the federal government, which Obama promised would be “open and transparent,” is dismissive and out of control. It is not something we can allow to continue as we move closer and closer to tyranny.
On his first full day in office in January 2009, and amid much fanfare from an excited and hopeful press who had just seen their “savior” elected, Barack Obama announced a Presidential Memo on the Freedom of Information Act, promising to usher in a “new era of openness.” He said, "Every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known."
He continued: “The Freedom of Information Act…is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government…All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.”
Of course, he didn’t mean his administration should adhere to that standard. Under his watch, FOIA lawsuits have jumped 28 percent, and a Bloomberg investigation found that only one out of twenty cabinet-level agencies fully obeyed the law.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act into law on July 4, 1966. Under its provisions, an individual can file a request with one of the 100 federal agencies subject to the law. That agency then has 20 working days to reply either with the information, or to provide a time frame in which they will comply. If the request is denied, the agency has to explain why. At this point, the individual who requested the information can file an appeal and then move forward with a lawsuit, if necessary.
Under the Obama administration, the information flow is particularly bad. A Bloomberg News investigation in late 2012 exposed the problems. They asked for what should be a simple public request: 2011 taxpayer-supported travel for Cabinet secretaries and top government officials.
The Small Business Administration was the only agency to provide Bloomberg with the requested information within the 20-day time period. Only six cabinet-rank organizations complied at all. The Postal Service, IRS, EPA and TSA were among those who did not.
And, ironically, neither did the ATF, DEA, or FBI—all agencies under the umbrella of the Department of Justice, which is supposed to be in charge of FOIA compliance.
Now, a bipartisan effort to fix the culture is underway by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD). They sent a six-page letter to the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy asking about backlogs, regulation updates, and compliance failures—in total, 23 points relating to the government’s refusal to share information with the public. They are expecting a response and a briefing by February 22nd, but we assume they shouldn’t hold their breath given the Obama administration’s track record.
This is most certainly one of the most brazen “do as I say, not as I do” administrations. It is expected, given their level of corrupt behavior, that agencies would stall or ignore FOIA requests. However, it is unacceptable.
We cannot hold our government accountable if we do not know what it is up to. Sadly, that is probably the point of the Obama administration’s many stonewalls. (It is interesting to note that Obama received an award for his commitment to open government in March 2011; and the presentation was closed to the press!)
Katherine Meyer is a Washington lawyer who has been filing FOIA cases since 1978. She told Politico, “Obama is the sixth administration that’s been in office since I’ve been doing Freedom of Information Act work. … It’s kind of shocking to me to say this, but of the six, this administration is the worst on FOIA issues. The worst. There’s just no question about it.”
Fax Congress and support the investigation by Reps. Issa and Cummings, and let every Member of Congress know that we will not tolerate our government violating the rule of law.