Obama Administration Increasing Censorship rather than Increasing Transparency

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Obama years in Washington were supposed to be transparent ones, with increased public access to and awareness of Executive Branch operations. If anything, however, censorship and maintaining government secrets have been more prevalent the longer President Barack Obama has been in office.


“The government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies covering six years show that halfway through its second term, the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records,” Ted Bridis and Jack Gillum reported for the Associated Press.


“In category after category—except for reducing numbers of old requests and a slight increase in how often it waived copying fees—the government's efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office,” they added.


In 2012, the year of Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency (NSA) revelations, the administration cited “national security” as reason to keep hidden information a record 8,496 times.


That was 57% more than during the previous year and more than double during Obama’s first year in office, when it cited that reason 3,658 times.


Nearly all of the refusals last year to disclose information on national security grounds came out of the Department of Defense, the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency.


Even agencies whose mission is not the defense of the nation cited this reason for denying Freedom of Information Act requests. The Farm Service Agency did it six times, the Environmental Protection Agency did it twice and the National Park Service once.


“I’m concerned the growing trend toward relying upon FOIA exemptions to withhold large swaths of government information is hindering the public’s right to know,” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the AP. “It becomes too much of a temptation. If you screw up in government, just mark it ‘top secret.’”


In 2013, a federal judge, Ellen Segal Huvelle, upbraided the Obama administration for trying to keep secret a non-classified policy directive regarding “Global Development.”


Obama has also failed to get federal agencies to update their procedures for handling FOIA requests.


Fifty of 101 agencies still haven’t updated their FOIA regulations to comply with Congress’ 2007 FOIA amendments, and more than half of them (55 of 101) haven’t even complied with changes called for by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to establish a “presumption of disclosure” to encourage the release of more documents, according to the National Security Archive at The George Washington University.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

US Cites Security More to Censor, Deny Records (by Ted Bridis and Jack Gillum, Associated Press)

Half of Federal Agencies Still Use Outdated Freedom of Information Regulations (National Security Archive)

48 Years after Creation of Freedom of Information Act, State Dept., Defense Dept. and VA Get Failing Grades (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Judge Chastises Obama Administration for Using “Secret Law” to Withhold Documents (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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