New analysis of federal data by the Associated Press finds the Obama administration set a record for censoring government files or denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
"This disappointing track record is hardly the mark of an administration that was supposed to be the most transparent in history," said Sen. John Cornyn.
President Barack Obama promised the “most transparent administration in U.S. history” on his very first day in office — but data appears to disagree.
"The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails," reads a memorandum from Obama to the heads of executive departments and agencies. "The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears…. All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government."
The data shows that of the total 647,142 requests, the government censored or fully denied access in 39 percent of the requests — 250,581 cases. The average time can range from a day or to more than 2.5 years, which creates a tough situation for journalists who need the information to report stories.
The U.S. government is required, under the law, to respond urgently to requests from journalists if records will inform the public concerning an actual or alleged government activity, but the government has routinely denied such requests. Instead, the government has reminded agencies to carefully consider their “breaking news” claim.
"What we discovered reaffirmed what we have seen all too frequently in recent years," wrote Gary Pruitt, AP's chief executive. "The systems created to give citizens information about their government are badly broken and getting worse all the time."
Over six years, the number of requests granted speedy processing status fell from nearly one-half to fewer than 1 in 8.
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