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FOIA Review: More Government Secrecy Under Obama Than Bush

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Another promise of “change” miserably fails

Steve Watson
Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

An Associated Press review of Freedom of Information Act reports filed by 17 major government agencies has revealed that, despite Barack Obama’s promise to make government more transparent, more information is now being withheld from the public.

The review finds that during Obama’s first year in office, a FOIA provision that allows the government to conceal details of its internal decision-making was invoked more frequently than during the outgoing year of the Bush administration.

The provision to refuse the release of internal documents was cited some 70,779 times during the financial year of 2009, compared with just 47,395 times in 2008.

“Obama specifically directed agencies to stop using that exemption so frequently, but that directive appears to have been widely ignored.” the AP report states.

Indeed, according to the review, every one of the nine different exemptions under FOIA law was invoked more by Obama agencies in 2009 than by Bush departments the previous year.

In total, federal agencies used exemptions to avoid releasing material at least 466,872 times in 2009, over 154,000 times more than the year before, despite the fact that there were some 48,000 less FOIA requests than in 2008.

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t

The 17 agencies reviewed were the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Federal Reserve Board.

The day after he was inaugurated, Obama announced that he had ordered government agencies to fully comply with the intended use of Freedom of Information Act law in order to ensure greater transparency and avoid charges of secrecy.

“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,” Obama wrote in a memo to federal agencies on January 21, 2009.

“The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.” he added.

“The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public,” the new president continued.

“They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and down by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.”

Clearly these instructions have been ignored by the agencies in question and unenforced by the incumbent administration.

The news comes on the back of further revelations that the Obama Administration has threatened to veto a congressional intelligence bill owing to the fact that the legislation would subject intelligence agencies to greater scrutiny and oversight.

The proposed bill would allow for a General Accountability Office review of US intelligence agencies, which are currently immune from Congressional audit.

So much for the promise of open government then.

This article was posted: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 11:07 am

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