Gee, whiz: Federal agencies lagging way behind on Obama’s transparency promises

posted at 3:41 pm on December 6, 2012 by Erika Johnsen

We’re totally committed to “creating an unprecedented level an openness in government,” he said. “In the face of doubt, openness prevails,” he assured us. “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency,” he promised. So, how’s all that unprecedented transparency and openness been going for our freshly reelected administration?

Earlier this week, Dana Milbank wrote a great piece calling out the Obama administration for their hypocritical level of opacity, and The Atlantic has more: When President Obama first took office in 2009, he circulated a memo to the heads of federal agencies admonishing them to get serious about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Oddly, most agencies have yet to snap to attention and make transparency a priority:

Two months later, Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines to agency heads, urging them to streamline their FOIA process and make more information available. …

A new audit from the National Security Archive found that 62 of the 99 government agencies have not updated their FOIA regulations since then and the vast majority of those — 56 — have not even updated them since the passage of the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which “mandated that agencies reform their fee structures, institute request tracking numbers, publish specific data on their FOIA output, and cooperate with the new FOIA mediators at the Office of Government Information Services.” Additionally, only six agencies (NARA, the EPA, Commerce, Treasury, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, and the Merit Systems Protection Board) have joined FOIAonline, a one-stop shop for making and tracking FOIA requests.

As the piece points out, it’s not that hard for administrators that care to do so to comply with Obama’s transparency promises and directives, but they were directives issued without any teeth in them — it was pretty much just a showy request, and Obama isn’t bothering to make sure anything is being done about it. I believe the golfing terminology is “follow-through.”

Speaking of openness, The Most Transparent Administration Evah booted reporters from a Business Roundtable meeting yesterday, saying that the press probably had “enough there.. to spin a story.” It must be good to be a well-entrenched, well-connected business in the Obama economy, via The Hill:

Business Forward on Thursday will host the last in a series of seven briefings where high-level Obama administration officials have discussed the budgets cuts and tax increases of the fiscal cliff with business executives. …

Some of Business Forward’s members include AT&T, Facebook, Lockheed Martin, McDonald’s, Verizon and Wal-Mart, according to the group’s website.

The White House outreach comes amid a broader push by Obama to rally business support for a deficit deal. The president has summoned groups of chief executives to the White House for fiscal cliff discussions, and on Wednesday made a visit to the Business Roundtable, one of the leading industry groups in town. …

“When you’re an ally of the president, you can often bring in as many people into the White House that you want,” said Jade West, senior vice president of government relations for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

“Business Forward is a political organization founded to support the Obama administration. So the fact they can bring people in to see the president and his people is neither a surprise nor terribly impressive,” West said.

As much as Obama loves to talk a big game about cracking down on the supposed malpractices of big business, there’s a whole heap of malpractice that comes from rent-seeking through the channels made available by big government. As I’ve said before, the Obama administration loves big business, and they love to be loved by big business. All of these rules and regulations ostensibly meant to protect consumers can actually be pretty darn helpful for the big guy, because they crowd out the little guy with compliance costs and allow the well-monied big guy to get into the White House through the front door. Then, Obama gets to look like he’s welcoming business leaders’ ideas and input, and say, see? All of these successful, big businesses really do support my policies. Yeah, no kidding.


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