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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 check the numbers, the Obama administration is less transparent than the previous administration:

An Associated Press review of Freedom of Information Act 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.

Among the most frequently used exemptions: one that lets the government hide records that detail its internal decision-making. Obama specifically directed agencies to stop using that exemption so frequently, but that directive appears to have been widely ignored.

Major agencies cited that exemption at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, up from 47,395 times during President George W. Bush’s final full budget year, according to annual FOIA reports filed by federal agencies. Obama was president for nine months in the 2009 period.

Departments used the exemption more even though Obama’s Justice Department told agencies to that disclosing such records was “fully consistent with the purpose of the FOIA,” a law intended to keep government accountable to the public.

For example, the Federal Aviation Administration cited the exemption in refusing the AP’s FOIA request for internal memos on its decisions about a database showing incidents in which airplanes and birds collided. The FAA initially tried to withhold the bird-strike database from the public, but later released it under pressure.

The FAA claimed the same exemption to hold back nearly all records on its approval of an Air Force One flyover of New York City for publicity shots – a flight that prompted fears in the city of a Sept. 11-style attack. It also withheld internal communications during the aftermath of the public relations gaffe.

In all, major agencies cited that or other FOIA exemptions to refuse information at least 466,872 times in budget year 2009, compared with 312,683 times the previous year, the review found. Agencies often cite more than one exemption when withholding part or all of the material sought in an open-records request.

The AP examined the 2008 and 2009 budget year FOIA reports from 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.

Other FOIA exemptions cover information on national defense and foreign relations, internal agency rules and practices, trade secrets, personal privacy, law enforcement proceedings, supervision of financial institutions and geological information on wells.

One, known as Exemption 3, covers dozens of types of information that Congress shielded from disclosure when passing other laws.

In sentences that are often vaguely worded and buried deep in legislation, Congress has granted a wide array of information special protection over the years: information related to grand jury investigations, the additives in cigarettes, juvenile arrest records, the identities of people applying restricted-use pesticides to their crops, and the locations of historically significant caves are a sampling of the broad range of information the public cannot get under FOIA.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was so concerned about what he called “exemption creep” that last year he successfully pressed for a new law that requires FOIA exemptions to be “clear and unambiguous.”

The federal government cited Exemption 3 protections to withhold information at least 14,442 times in the last budget year, compared with at least 13,599 in the previous one, agency FOIA reports show.

I suppose that the POTUS will find some way to blame this on George Bush, “our number aren’t high, Bush’s were too low.”  The only thing transparent about the Obama administration, is its lack of transparency.

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