Today marks the end of "Sunshine Week," when various watchdog organizations report on the score the federal government is running up in pursuit of President Obama's 2009 promise of a "new standard of openness" and his 2013 claim to be running "the most transparent administration in history."
According to the Center for Effective Government, the National Security Archive and The Associated Press, the answer is that there is still a lot of fog in the air when it comes to government responses to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act.
An Associated Press survey found that the Obama administration was more secretive last year than during its first year in office, despite the president's claims.
The Center for Effective Government found that 7 of 15 agencies it surveyed deserved failing grades for unresponsive compliance with the FOIA.
The National Security Archive, which claims to file more FOIA requests than any other organization, reported that more than half of all government agencies were not complying with FOIA rules or White House and Justice Department directives calling for a "presumption of disclosure" when responding to FOIA requests.
So are bureaucrats merely ignoring the president and frustrating his desire for more sunshine on government activities? Maybe not.
There is evidence that the White House itself may be responsible for some of the delays and denials that have given the Obama administration such poor sunshine grades.
This week Cause of Action, another watchdog group, reported that in April 2009, scant weeks after the White House and Justice Department issued directives calling for greater government transparency, Mr. Obama's White House counsel sent a memorandum to "all executive departments and agency general counsels" instructing them to consult with his office before responding to any kind of document request, whether from Congress or under FOIA or from the Government Accountability Office or legal subpoenas "that may involve White House equities."
The memo did not define "White House equities," but Cause of Action reports that the Treasury Department views the term as covering any communication originated by or copied to a White House official. Given the attention the Obama White House pays to all politically sensitive issues, that could mean a very large number of documents have to be reviewed by the White House before they can be made public.
Cause of Action reported that White House reviews often result in long delays in responding to FOIA requests, and many documents provided in response are heavily redacted or blacked out.
President Obama has become noted for high-sounding promises that are not executed. "The most transparent administration in history" appears to be another example.
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