The Washington Post has a damning op-ed illustrating how the federal government has stonewalled journalists’ requests for public records, despite President Obama’s promise to be the “most transparent administration in history.”
Under president Obama, ProPublica’s Justin Elliott notes, the federal government broke all prior records for non-transparency. And “the backlog of unanswered requests across government had risen by 55 percent, to more than 200,000,” he writes, citing an Associated Press report.
More appalling details:
Incredibly, it took my ProPublica colleague Michael Grabell more than seven years to get records about air marshal misconduct from the Transportation Security Administration. As he pointed out, his latest contact in the FOIA office was still in high school when Grabell filed his initial request.
After a reporter at NBC4 in Washington sought files related to the 2013 Navy Yard shooting, Navy officials actively strategized about how to thwart the request. The Navy only apologized after it mistakenly forwarded its internal email traffic to the reporter.
When a Mexican journalist asked the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2014 for files related to its role in the capture of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the agency sent a letter back demanding $1.4 million in fees to search its records.
The Obama administration’s total disregard for the public’s right to know means that it’s tougher to hold the government accountable, even as federal agencies assume a more activist role than ever before.
Federal law requires agencies to respond to most Freedom of Information Act requests in 20 business days or less—a mandate that agencies have systematically ignored, as Elliott notes.
Such stonewalling isn’t just an obstacle to open government; it’s a rule of law problem.