Most transparent administration in history sets record for failure to find requested documents

posted at 8:31 pm on March 19, 2016 by John Sexton

President Obama will forever by associated with the blatant lie “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” However, another promise which has turned out to be just as reliable as the one about health care probably deserves more attention. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the President making the promise repeatedly:

In reality, the Associated Press has analyzed FOIA requests sent to government agencies and determined agencies either failed to turn over anything or turned over redacted documents 77 percent of the time:

In more than one in six cases, or 129,825 times, government searchers said they came up empty-handed last year. Such cases contributed to an alarming measurement: People who asked for records under the law received censored files or nothing in 77 percent of requests, also a record. In the first full year after President Barack Obama’s election, that figure was only 65 percent of cases.

[…]

The FBI couldn’t find any records in 39 percent of cases, or 5,168 times. The Environmental Protection Agency regional office that oversees New York and New Jersey couldn’t find anything 58 percent of the time. U.S. Customs and Border Protection couldn’t find anything in 34 percent of cases.

“It’s incredibly unfortunate when someone waits months, or perhaps years, to get a response to their request – only to be told that the agency can’t find anything,” said Adam Marshall, an attorney with the Washington-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

When someone takes the additional step of bringing the document request before a court then, miraculously, all manner of documents appear:

In some high-profile instances, usually after news organizations filed expensive federal lawsuits, the Obama administration found tens of thousands of pages after it previously said it couldn’t find any. The website Gawker sued the State Department last year after it said it couldn’t find any emails that Philippe Reines, an aide to Hillary Clinton and former deputy assistant secretary of state, had sent to journalists. After the lawsuit, the agency said it found 90,000 documents about correspondence between Reines and reporters. In one email, Reines wrote to a reporter, “I want to avoid FOIA,” although Reines’ lawyer later said he was joking.

Speaking of Hillary and her top aides, one guess which agency within the Obama administration had the very worst record when it came to responding to FOIA requests. If you guessed the State Department under Hillary Clinton, you are correct. A report published in January by the State Department Inspector General found that out of 240 FOIA requests for information connected to Secretary Clinton, 177 were still outstanding more than a year after she left office. Here’s a chart from the report showing that:

State FOIA response

If Clinton wins the 2016 election, the Obama administration will look like the most transparent administration in history by comparison.


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