By Keith Farrell | Watchdog.org
The White House is removing regulations which make its Office of Administration accountable to Freedom of Information Act requests. The change prevents journalists and private citizens from acquiring records from that office. This comes as an Associated Press report has found that the Obama administration set a record last year for censoring government files or denying access to them under the FOIA.
This is a president who has claimed his to be the most transparent administration in history. In fact, transparency was one of his oft stated promises when he first ran for president in 2007. But the reality of an Obama administration is far from the vision that was sold to American voters. Obama’s actions have proven that like many of his promises, talk of transparency was nothing more than empty rhetoric.
The White House rule change has come at a questionable time. It was announced on National Freedom of Information Day. It’s also Sunshine Week, a week where journalists and watchdog groups seek to highlight issues concerning government transparency.
While most parts of the White House have been exempt from the FOIA, its Office of Administration had been complying with FOIA requests for over 30 years. The records provided the public and the media with a glimpse into the inner working of the White House. However, that compliance halted under the Bush administration.
That was when the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, sued the Bush administration over as many as 22 million deleted emails. The White House initially began to respond to the request, but then ceased. The federal government then began to argue against the archiving of White House emails and in 2009 a federal appeals court ruled in their favor.
The ruling stated that the Office of Administration was not subject to the FOIA “because it performs only operational and administrative tasks in support of the president and his staff and therefore, under our precedent, lacks substantial independent authority.” This week, the Obama administration made that official policy, removing the FOIA regulations on that office based on “well-settled legal interpretations.”
The move comes in the midst of a scandal involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails. Questions remain over how Mrs. Clinton stored classified material and why she was running a home-based email server in violation of federal records laws. Mrs. Clinton has now stated that she deleted over 30,000 emails before turning them over to the State Department. The American public is asked to take her word for it that those emails were all of a personal nature and unrelated to state business.
At a time when scrutiny regarding records-keeping and storage is at an all-time high, the administration has decided to draw its curtains and keep as much sunlight out as possible.
The AP reports that even those parts of the Obama Administration that are subject to FOIA requests are not honoring them. In fact, over half of last year’s requests remain unanswered in a severely backlogged system. Not surprising since the administration cut its number of full-time employees responsible for such duties by 9 percent.
The Freedom of Information Act is our nation’s dedication to accountable government put into law. Watchdog organizations and journalists depend on its regulations to ensure that the people maintain proper control over their government. An open and honest administration would have no desire to alter or limit it. What this president has done so demonstrates his true feelings towards transparent, open government.