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Transparency. It was supposed to be one of President Obama’s “Changes.” He promised this would be the most transparent presidential administration is US history.  According to the left-wing government watchdog organization,  Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the Obama administration has not improved transparency compared to the previous one, and in some areas may be worse.

Remember this post from Whitehouse.gov?

Transparency like you’ve never seen before October 30, 2009 at 04:31 PM EDT ..Today marks a major milestone in government transparency — and an important lesson in the unintended consequences of such vigorous disclosure. We previously announced that the White House in December of this year would — for the first time in history — begin posting all White House visitor records under the terms of our new voluntary disclosure policy. As part of that initiative, we also offered to look back at the records created before the announcement of the policy and answer specific requests for visitor records created earlier in the year.

Foolish us! We thought that post meant that the President was going to make Washington more transparent, but if you checked the numbers this past March you would have seen that the Obama administration is less transparent than the previous administration:

An Associated Press review of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reports filed by 17 major agencies found that the use of nearly every one of the law’s nine exemptions to withhold information from the public rose in fiscal year 2009, which ended last October.

According to CREW a government watchdog organization partially funded by our old “friend” George Soros, they have been having the same fights with the Obama administration accessing information through the FOIA as they did with the Bush administration. So they tried to find out if other groups were facing the same problems as they were. So CREW created a survey, which was distributed by the American Society of Access Professionals on the group’s private list-serve. Because CREW did not have access to the list-serve, and thus cannot quantify the list’s demographics, the organization wrote in its report that the results are “not scientific or statistically valid, but are definitive on at least some topics.”

Overall the study blames lack of staffing/funding as the reason for the lack of  FOIA improvement, but it also points to the fact that under the Obama Administration FOIA staff is relying on the same FOIA’s exemptions to withhold information as in George Bush’s.  The full study is below, but the following is a summary of CREW’s more notable findings:

  • “Two of the touted reforms – creation of agency chief FOIA officers (CFOs) and agency FOIA public liaisons – have had virtually no influence on the work of agency FOIA professionals,” the report says. According to the survey results, more than 60% of respondents said that the CFO position had no effect on their job, did not make processing requests clearer, and did not make their overall jobs easier. Comments on the position included, “Chief FOIA Officer? Seriously, there is no position description for FOIA, it’s everybody do everything,” and “Did not know this position existed.”
  • Roughly 63% of respondents said the fact that FOIA is “not an administration priority,” was a problem.
  • Respondents have not seen a shift in policy since Obama and Holder announced FOIA reform. “Over 36% of respondents claim a ‘presumption of openness’ was part of their agency culture before the attorney general issued his memo, while only 22% state a presumption of openness has become part of their agency culture since the memo’s release. Change has yet to happen at a number of agencies: 16% of respondents said a change is underway but not completed, while 15% said nothing has changed.”
  • A majority of respondents also said that “guidance is not issued uniformly government-wide and there are limited agency funds to attend outside conferences and workshops.”
  •   “New policies have not induced FOIA staff to rely less on the FOIA’s exemptions to withhold information. The most common response to the question of whether specific exemptions are used with the same frequency as before the attorney general issued his memorandum was yes: 50% of respondents said at their agencies the exemptions are used with the same frequency.”
  • And this: “Many respondents identify staffing problems as a key impediment, particularly the lack of a clear career path for FOIA professionals. They suggest creating a federal job series, as the Office of Personnel Management has done for other government jobs, to professionalize the FOIA and attract and retain talent. They also call for using fewer contractors and more permanent staff and an overall increase in staffing levels.

Complete FOIA Report 9-29-10

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