Politics

Obama Administration Confused on Transparency

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President Obama boldly promised to "usher in a new era of open government" and make transparency a "touchstone" of his administration.

He has humbly regarded his own administration as one of the most transparent and ethical in history.

But a recent Bloomberg News analysis found otherwise. The Obama administration, in fact, routinely violates the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Nineteen of 20 cabinet-level agencies disobeyed the law requiring the disclosure of public information: The cost of travel by top officials. In all, just eight of the 57 federal agencies met Bloomberg’s request for those documents within the 20-day window required by the Act.

"When it comes to implementation of Obama’s wonderful transparency policy goals, especially FOIA policy in particular, there has been far more ‘talk the talk’ rather than ‘walk the walk,’" said Daniel Metcalfe, director of the Department of Justice’s office monitoring the government’s compliance with FOIA requests from 1981 to 2007.

The Bloomberg survey was designed in part to gauge the timeliness of responses, which Attorney General Eric Holder called "an essential component of transparency" in a March 2009 memo. About half of the 57 agencies eventually disclosed the out-of-town travel expenses generated by their top official by Sept. 14, most of them well past the legal deadline. …

"It’s ironic that the demands in the presidential campaign for Mitt Romney’s tax returns are unrelenting, but when it comes time to release the schedules for senior appointees there’s the same denial of access," said Paul Light, a New York University professor who studies the federal bureaucracy.

A recent report from the House and Energy Commerce Committee found that White House staff members have routinely conducted official business via personal email accounts in order to skirt transparency requirements.