One of the most hypocritical features of the Obama administration was its public claim to be strongly in favor of transparency, to the extent of proudly boasting that it was “the most transparent administration in history”, while constantly working behind the scenes to kill any attempts at greater transparency. Trevor Timm writes about what a new lawsuit has revealed.
New documents obtained through Freedom of the Press Foundation’s lawsuit against the Justice Department reveal that the Obama administration – the self described “most transparent administration ever” – aggressively lobbied behind the scenes in 2014 to kill modest Freedom of Information Act reform that had virtually unanimous support in Congress.
The bill in question – known as the FOIA Act – was unanimously passed by the House in early 2014. The Senate passed a similar bill – known as the FOIA Improvement Act – in December of 2014, but a final vote in the House to merge the two bills was held up at the last minute by then-Speaker of the House John Boehner and the session of Congress ended before it could become law. It was unclear at the time why the bill did not come up for a final vote, but the Washington Post later reported that a few federal agencies—including the Justice Department—had “warned” lawmakers about some provisions in the bill.
But these new documents show it went well beyond that: the Justice Department vehemently objected to both House and Senate members on nearly all aspects of the bill from the very start, and made clear: “The Administration strongly opposes passage of [the FOIA Act].”Notably, the Justice Department indicates that this policy memo (published in full below) is not just the agency’s individual opinion, but that it is speaking for the entire Obama administration.
The Obama administration’s specious objections to FOIA reform were manifold. They were against codifying the Obama administration’s “presumption of openness” policy that Obama declared upon his first month in office, they were against Congress mandating that the federal government create a unified online portal to process FOIA requests, they were against mandating discipline for FOIA redactors who break any of rules or regulations for processing FOIA requests, and they were against providing more reporting and oversight to Congress to make sure FOIA was being complied with.
And now the Trump administration will be able to use all these things to block any attempts to find out what they are up to. Maybe the Obama administration should be boasting that they were the least transparent administration in history.