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Obama’s ‘Openness’ a Transparent Lie

The media and Congress finally discover the truth.

by
Patrick Richardson

Bio

March 17, 2011 - 12:00 am

The Associated Press is reporting that the Obama administration has denied more than a third of the Freedom of Information Act requests submitted last year.

This is no surprise to PJ Media or myself. We’ve had several refused in just the last year, and we’re still waiting on an answer to one more at least.

In October, we asked the FDIC to release to us records pertaining to their alleged maintenance of a list of politically connected banks which then received special treatment.

The Washington Post wrote at the time:

A Washington Post review of documents and interviews with many involved in the decisions show that regulators flagged the bank early on for its “highly visible” connection — in OneUnited’s case, a former board member who is married to Waters, the chairman of an important banking subcommittee. The alert was part of a previously undisclosed practice at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. of trying to identify banks that might cause “unnecessary press or public relations” problems, according to testimony a top FDIC official gave to House ethics investigators.

That prompted Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.), then ranking member and currently chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to write a rather pointed letter demanding answers.

The FDIC’s response? Pound sand. That prompted PJM to send a FOIA request demanding those same answers.

FDIC responded in record time: pound sand.

PJM promptly sent a second FOIA request. That was in early October. We’ve had no response.

This is far from the only case.

PJM’s J. Christian Adams, who broke the selective enforcement of the Voting Rights Act in the Department of Justice story, dropped another bombshell in February of this year. It seems the DoJ has been very selectively complying with FOIA. As Adams wrote then:

Eric Holder’s Justice Department has even politicized compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. According to documents I have obtained, FOIA requests from liberals or politically connected civil rights groups are often given same-day turnaround by the DOJ. But requests from conservatives or Republicans face long delays, if they are fulfilled at all.

It was so bad PJM finally sued under FOIA — perhaps the first time a conservative new media outlet has done so.

For an administration which has touted “openness” left and right, the pattern would be amusing — if it weren’t so frightening.

According to the Associated Press:

People requested information 544,360 times last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act from the 35 largest agencies, up nearly 41,000 more than the previous year, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of new federal data. But the government responded to nearly 12,400 fewer requests.

But that’s not even the money quote. Apparently the White House won’t even respond to open records requests about its open records program!

The Obama administration censored 194 pages of internal e-mails about its Open Government Directive that the AP requested more than one year ago. The December 2009 directive requires every agency to take immediate, specific steps to open their operations up to the public. But the White House Office of Management and Budget blacked out entire pages of some e-mails between federal employees discussing how to apply the new openness rules, and it blacked out one e-mail discussing how to respond to AP’s request for information about the transparency directive.

At this point Issa’s committee is preparing to undertake hearings Thursday into the administration’s handling of FOIA requests.

Committee sources indicate those testifying may be in for a long morning.

“It’s easy to promise openness,” sources close to the committee said. “It’s quite another to deliver it. Because there’s daylight between the administration’s words and deeds, taxpayers deserve to know what’s standing in the way of a truly free FOIA.”

Let’s hope they can get some answers. While it’s obviously not possible to comply with every FOIA request, the sheer volume of refusals is troubling. More troubling still is the apparent tendency to favor requests from sympathetic agencies and groups.

An administration which slammed its predecessor for failing to comply with FOIA should have a substantially better record of compliance than those whom they hold in such contempt.

Patrick Richardson has been a journalist for almost 15 years and an inveterate geek all his life. He blogs regularly at www.otherwheregazette.com, which aims to be like another SF magazine, just not so serious.
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