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Another broken promise: Obama more secretive than Bush

By SHARON THEIMER
March 16, 2010

(AP)

The government’s use of legal exemptions to keep records secret rose during President Barack Obama‘s first year in office, despite promises of increased openness, an Associated Press review found.

The review of annual Freedom of Information Act reports filed by 17 major agencies found that overall, the use of nearly every one of the open-records law’s nine exemptions to withhold information rose in fiscal year 2009, which ended last October.

Among the most frequently used exemptions: one that lets the government hold back records that detail its internal decision-making. Obama had directed agencies to stop using that exemption so frequently, but that directive appears to have been widely ignored.

Major agencies cited that exemption to refuse records at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, compared with 47,395 times during President George W. Bush‘s final full budget year, according to annual FOIA reports filed by federal agencies. Obama was president for nine months in the 2009 period.

Departments used the exemption even though the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy, which advises them on FOIA, told them after Obama took office that they could exercise discretion and disclose such records. Doing so “will be fully consistent with the purpose of the FOIA,” it said.

For example, the Federal Aviation Administration cited the exemption in refusing the AP’s FOIA request for internal memos on its decisions about a database showing incidents in which airplanes and birds collided. The FAA initially tried to withhold the bird-strike database from the public, but later released it under pressure.

The FAA claimed the same exemption to hold back nearly all records on its approval of an Air Force One flyover of New York City for publicity shots — a flight that prompted fears in the city of a Sept. 11-style attack. It also withheld internal communications during the aftermath of the public relations gaffe.

In all, major agencies cited that or other FOIA exemptions to refuse information at least 466,872 times in budget year 2009, compared with 312,683 times the previous year, the review found. Agencies often cite more than one exemption when withholding part or all of the material sought in an open-records request.

The AP examined the 2008 and 2009 budget year FOIA reports from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Federal Reserve Board.

Other FOIA exemptions cover information on national defense and foreign relations, internal agency rules and practices, trade secrets, personal privacy, law enforcement proceedings, supervision of financial institutions and geological information on wells.

One, known as Exemption 3, covers dozens of types of information that Congress shielded from disclosure when passing other laws.

In sentences that are often vaguely worded and buried deep in legislation, Congress has granted a wide array of information special protection over the years: information related to grand jury investigations, the additives in cigarettes, juvenile arrest records, the identities of people applying restricted-use pesticides to their crops, and the locations of historically significant caves are a sampling of the broad range of information the public cannot get under FOIA.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was so concerned about what he called “exemption creep” that last year he successfully pressed for a new law that requires FOIA exemptions to be “clear and unambiguous.”

The federal government cited Exemption 3 protections to withhold information at least 14,442 times in the last budget year, compared with at least 13,599 in the previous one, agency FOIA reports show.

The prolific use of FOIA exemptions is one measure of how far the federal government has yet to go to carry out Obama’s promise of openness. His first full day in office, Obama told agencies the Freedom of Information Act, “which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open government.”

Obama told agencies they shouldn’t hide information merely because it might make them look bad. “The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA,” Obama wrote.

Following up on Obama’s words, the Justice Department advised agencies against withholding records sought under FOIA “merely because an exemption legally applies.” Most recently, the White House encouraged agency officials to hold contests, complete with prizes, to encourage employees to promote open government.

Describing the Justice Department’s actions on FOIA on Monday at the start of Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information, Attorney General Eric Holder said his agency is making progress. He noted that Justice provided everything sought in a FOIA request in more than 1,000 more cases than it had the previous year.

“Put simply, I asked that we make openness the default, not the exception. Today, I’m pleased to report that the disturbing 2008 trend — a reduction in this department’s rate of disclosures — has been completely reversed,” Holder said. “While we aren’t where we need to be just yet, we’re certainly on the right path.”

Much of the Obama administration’s early effort on FOIA seems to have been aimed at clearing out a backlog of old cases: The number of requests still sitting around past the time limits spelled out in the open-records law fell from 124,019 in budget year 2008 to 67,764 at the end of the most recent budget year over the 17 agencies, the AP’s review found. There is no way to tell whether those whose old cases that were closed ultimately received the information they sought.

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On the Net:

Freedom of Information Act: http://www.justice.gov/oip/04_7.html

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13 Responses to Another broken promise: Obama more secretive than Bush

  1. AustinRanter (AKA Gregg)

    March 16, 2010 at 7:03 am

    While we’d like to believe that Obama has decided to do a 180 on his campaigned “openness”, what really makes that problem anymore or less important that so many other promises?

    I have to compare this situation with Obama’s broken promises with people who maintain that all of the 10 Commandments are equally sinful. Others have decided to pick and choose which commandment is more sinful than the others.

    It’s all but laughable about how quickly we citizens forget that campaign lies have been going on for 250 years. But the difference is that over time, campaign lies are appear to produce much more severe conseqences imposed on the American people.

    Why do Americans believe that our government is somehow pristine compared to all other industrialized nations?

    • AustinRanter (AKA Gregg)

      March 16, 2010 at 7:36 am

      God, after re-reading my above comment, one might think that I had about a half a bottle of booze in my coffee. Sorry for the grammatic errors, hope all can figure out what the hell I was saying.

      • Carl Nemo

        March 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm

        Yo AustinR,

        Well, maybe not a bottle’s worth, but a half cup unless you drink your coffee out of a whiskey bottle and add some coffee on occasion… : )

        Nemo **==

    • Issodhos

      March 16, 2010 at 8:44 pm

      Heck Gregg, as far as the campaign went, it was my impression that president Obama (then candidate Obama) got almost all of the ‘Black’ vote because he was a Democrat and ‘black’ enough. He got much of the New Left-influenced modern ‘white’ liberal vote because it would give them future bragging rights to having voted for the first ‘Black’ president who was also a Democrat and not too ‘black’. And then there were many gullible voters who bought into his “hope” and “change” lies that attracted those who thought he was the antedote to president Bush. Finally, there were many who heard his message of redistributing goodies along with a free lunch, so they hopped aboard in order to “get their’s”.:-)

      But that is yesterday’s news. The fun stuff now is going to be the Dem/progressive/modern lib campaign which will lead to the “Great Whitening” of Obama. The intent will be to remake him into the image of a ‘white’ man in a brownish skin raised in a ‘white’ Kansan culture, and thus completely out of touch with the ‘oppressed’ groups and factions so beloved by the collectivist. His destroyers will be both ‘white’ and ‘black’ leftists of one flavor or another — Unless, of course, he “gets with their program of the progressive marxist-lite destruction of the last vestiges of the American experiment. Popcorn, anyone?;-)
      Yours in quiet contemplation,
      Issodhos

  2. Carl Nemo

    March 16, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    All I can say is ‘dear leader’ is looking ever more sneaky as time goes by. Photo’s show him looking slitty-eyed or using averted vision out of the corner of his eye when speaking etc., all signs of one that’s up to something 24/7/365…no?!

    To put it simply, I do not trust this man and his coterie of retread, nation-destroying ‘advisers’…period! : |

    Carl Nemo **==

    • Almandine

      March 16, 2010 at 8:14 pm

      Hey there, Mr. photo guy… did you see the ears?

      • Carl Nemo

        March 16, 2010 at 8:26 pm

        Mr. Photo guy…?! / : |

        I hope my photo analysis hasn’t upset you over time my friend in thought?

        As for his ears, I haven’t focused on those because I don’t want to be tagged as a physiognomist; ie., judging people by their facial characteristics. I generally analyze based as to what they are involved with or possibly their physical actions in the photo, or the props surrounding them, but never just their looks. None of us can help our physical looks since it’s just the luck of the genetic draw so to speak.

        I’ve got a smaller, less intimidating version of “Spock’s” ears and as to Obama’s all I can say is that hopefully his wife thinks they’re “cute”… : ))

        Carl Nemo **==

        • Almandine

          March 16, 2010 at 8:45 pm

          Upset? No way. :-)) Just thought it would make an interesting retort to your sometimes perceptive analysis. Haven’t posted much recently, either… call it a quick howdy.

          • Carl Nemo

            March 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm

            Thanks for the assurances Almandine. I would hate to think that I’ve caused you to start grinding your teeth concerning my posts… : )

            Lately, I’m generally grinding my teeth as I write my material. Things aren’t going well for the citizens of Gotham. The cult of the “Big O” is destroying this nation; ie., what’s left of it financially speaking.

            Yesterday I wrote one concerning President Obama taking health care on a road show to Ohio which is a featured article under the category “Whitehouse”. It sat in moderation for most of the day finally released after I sent Doug an email. No problem, but I’m thinking you would enjoy the sorry stats concerning T-Bond auctions and how profligate this dog and pony show has become; ie., the squandering of America’s heritage as a function of crushing, unrepayable debt.

            http://www.capitolhillblue.com/node/26609

            Carl Nemo **==

  3. Almandine

    March 16, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    All things come to those who wait… even the realization that’s it’s easier to throw rocks than govern. Elect a boy and that’s what you’ve got.

  4. paulb6

    March 16, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    I rarely post to any news source especially here because Nemo pretty much says what I would have said and am thinking, however, how did we think as a nation we could elect someone who was a community organizer then a senator with two years experience. My god Palin has more experience and we would not consider her and look what we ended with along with a speaker of the house who’s father was the most corrupt mayor of Baltimore in history. Great bunch of elected leaders we have from both parties isn’t it. I fear for my beloved daughter who is 31 years old and her future. Please excuse me for being so long winded.

    • Carl Nemo

      March 16, 2010 at 9:52 pm

      Hi paulb6,

      Hey, my wife and I voted for Obama out of desperation due to eight years of being pummeled by the Bushistas and their nation destroying policies. We’ve been registered as Independents for our entire voting lives so weren’t beholding to any party apparatus.

      Ron Paul was an option; but me, being a pragmatist thought that Obama was the best choice as a “change we can believe in” candidate. I felt there was a possibility for change with him working within the ensconced party’s apparatus due to his stunning oratorical abilities in order to motivate Congress to make the necessary changes. I thought Ron Paul would have been simply an outsider with little support from his party only being able to make change as function of the power of his office through Executive Order’s with him curtailing our involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan as a function of him being the Commander in Chief, also through his veto pen. Instead both prior and once installed, President Obama surrounded himself with retreads from past administrations, many of whom can be linked to the very financial nightmare in which we are now living. He’s also appointed a record number of Czar’s who have not been vetted by Congress and possibly can’t even obtain street level security clearances. It seems to be business as usual or worse. Who are these advisers I ask?! Then again, who is Obama? I accused John McCain of being the “Manchurian candidate” possibly Obama has long since been groomed for his place in history; ie., to send the U.S. to the bottom for the benefit of the shadowy oligarchs who want to turn an entire planet into simply their plantation with desperate serfs doing their bidding, the U.S. simply reduced to a minor operation within their greater global scheme of things to come.

      You don’t have to apologize for being “long winded”. It’s nice hearing from new site participants to those that rarely post. : ) If anyone is long winded, it’s me.

      Carl Nemo **==

  5. Almandine

    March 17, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Well, none of the spilled milk can be taken back, but there’s always another tomorrow to make up for it. We’ve just got to throw this bunch out and start over. Recall those who aren’t up for election this cycle.