These days, I’m considering adding a keyboard macro to start off posts with, “Remember when Barack Obama promised more transparency and open government?” Raw Story reports on the advance of Hope and Change in yet another “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” moment from Obama. Turns out that George W. Bush was relatively transparent compared to his successor:
One year later, Obama’s requests for transparency have apparently gone unheeded. In fact a provision in the Freedom of Information Act law that allows the government to hide records that detail its internal decision-making has been invoked by Obama agencies more often in the past year than during the final year of President George W. Bush.
Major agencies cited that exemption to refuse records at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, compared with 47,395 times during President George W. Bush’s final full budget year, according to annual FOIA reports filed by federal agencies.
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.
The AP review comes on the heels of another bit of government transparency news: that the Obama Administration has threatened to veto a congressional intelligence bill because it objects to efforts to increase intelligence oversight.
Among other things, the proposed legislation would subject intelligence agencies to General Accountability Office review. US intelligence agencies are currently immune from review by the Congressional auditing office.
Critics would do well to remember that government often has good reason to keep sensitive information out of the public domain. After all, we’re fighting a war in Afghanistan as well as battling global terrorist networks. Furthermore, the executive branch has a right to solicit advice on policy, and it can’t get good, honest advice if the people being asked believe that their consultations will get plastered all over the New York Times. While the government tends to default too often to secrecy no matter which party occupies the White House, those issues are valid still.
Of course, conservatives do remember all of this. We recalled it when Obama made a fetish of Hope and Change on the campaign trail, and called the Bush White House the most secretive in American history. Instead of acting responsibly on this issue (as he begrudgingly did on the Patriot Act extensions in June 2008), Obama elected to demagogue on it instead, casting himself as a knight in shining armor unlocking the dungeons of a tyrant.
Now, such denials have increased by 49%, and that’s not counting whether overall requests have increased or decreased. Let’s try to guess: would the press be making more inquiries during Obama’s term in office than Bush’s, or fewer? To their credit, Raw Story has that data, too:
All told, the 17 agencies reviewed by AP reported getting 444,924 FOIA requests in fiscal 2009, compared with 493,610 in fiscal 2008.
Not just fewer, but over ten percent fewer requests. Putting those numbers together, the Bush administration had a denial rate of 9.6%. The Obama administration has a denial rate of 15.9%. Which President promised more transparency? And why is the press 10% less interested in the inner workings of government now than it was in 2008?