Government transparency is vital
President Barack Obama’s administration, which he promised in 2009 would be the most transparent in history, instead is on track to set new records for concealing information.
Both through a general slowdown in responding to Freedom of Information Act requests and by simply refusing to release some important documents, the White House is telling Americans, in effect, that how government functions is none of our business.
Obama is not the first president to pledge openness, then go in the other direction. Again, however, secrecy has reached new, alarming heights.
For example, the government had a backlog of about 77,000 requests for information when Obama took office in 2009. The number soared to nearly 160,000 last year.
Members of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee have just concluded hearings on the Freedom of Information Act. Lawmakers heard horror stories such as some people waiting for years merely to be told whether the government would provide documents they sought – only to be rejected.
When Obama took office, it was announced details about all visitors to the White House, including names and dates, would be made public. Since then, reporters have been told there are exceptions to the rule. And, to dodge it entirely, Obama’s aides have made it a point to meet some people outside the White House – so contacts that might embarrass the president can be treated as if they never happened.
Strengthening FOIA statutes may help – but they can be undermined by officials who are not truly committed to complying with them.