Analysis: Obama's Transparency Push a Flop

Feds cited national security to withhold information a record 8,496 times

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 17, 2014 9:11 AM CDT

(Newser) – The Obama administration pledged to boost transparency in the White House from the get-go, but it hasn't exactly been a promise kept. In virtually every category, the government's efforts to be more open about its activities in 2013 were their worst since Barack Obama first took office, the AP reports in an analysis of federal data. Last year, the government censored or refused to reveal more files requested under the Freedom of Information Act than ever before, and when it came to the most "newsworthy" events, the White House denied quick access to relevant materials at a record rate. Standout figures:

  • The administration—mostly through the Pentagon and the CIA—pointed to national security as a reason to maintain secrecy 8,496 times in 2013. That record-breaking figure is up 57% from the year before.
  • Five years ago, President Obama ordered agencies to reduce their use of a "deliberative process" explanation to justify withholding documents—but agencies did it a record 81,752 times last year.
  • The year saw a record 704,394 requests for information; in all, the White House censored or refused to release materials 36% of the time.
  • On 196,034 other occasions, the government said it couldn't find records, a person refused to pay for copies, or the government determined the request to be unreasonable or improper.
The administration says its "agencies are responding to the president's call for greater transparency," with a White House rep noting that "over the past five years, federal agencies have worked aggressively to improve their responsiveness to FOIA requests." But AP's analysis showed that most agencies took longer to answer requests than in 2012; the White House said the government responded more quickly, but it did not immediately explain how it determined that. It did, however, respond to 2% more requests overall than it did in 2012. Click for the full report.

Law enforcement officers photograph a window at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011, as seen from the South Lawn.
Law enforcement officers photograph a window at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011, as seen from the South Lawn.   (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
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