AP: Obama administration sets new record for FOIA non-compliance

Two years ago (and many times before and since), Barack Obama insisted that his was “the most transparent administration in history,” while even his supporters began to question that claim:

Count the Associated Press among the skeptics. In 2014, the Obama administration set new records on FOIA opacity, with a backlog that grew 55% as the executive branch stalled, waited longer when it did comply, and a third of the time violated FOIA to block access to materials that should have been disclosed:

 For the second consecutive year, the Obama administration more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press. …

The government’s new figures, published Tuesday, covered all requests to 100 federal agencies during fiscal 2014 under the Freedom of Information law, which is heralded globally as a model for transparent government. They showed that despite disappointments and failed promises by the White House to make meaningful improvements in the way it releases records, the law was more popular than ever. Citizens, journalists, businesses and others made a record 714,231 requests for information. The U.S. spent a record $434 million trying to keep up.

The government responded to 647,142 requests, a 4 percent decrease over the previous year. The government more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 250,581 cases or 39 percent of all requests. Sometimes, the government censored only a few words or an employee’s phone number, but other times it completely marked out nearly every paragraph on pages.

The Obama administration set a record for reversals in 2014, too. Almost 1 in 3 denied requests had to be later approved, after the applicants pursued appeals. It’s the highest rate in FOIA handling, and strongly suggests that the administration has tried to discourage FOIA demands by falsely denying them on initial consideration. In fact, the government “routinely denies” speedy processing requests needed by news agencies. Six years ago, about half of those requests were granted, but has fallen to less than 1 in 8 requests being granted.

AP CEO Gary Pruitt wrote that the FOIA system under Obama is broken:

“What we discovered reaffirmed what we have seen all too frequently in recent years,” Pruitt wrote in a column published this week. “The systems created to give citizens information about their government are badly broken and getting worse all the time.”

Guy wrote yesterday about how the Obama administration has embraced FOIA by, er, exempting itself from it. We recently discovered that four years of records from the State Department got kept in a private system run by Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a decision whose express purpose could only have been to thwart FOIA demands and Congressional oversight.

So yes, this may be the most transparent administration ever … transparent in its single-minded intent to flout the rules and make a mockery out of accountability and oversight.