Obama’s promises: Just more empty political rhetoric

Two years into its pledge to improve government transparency, the Obama administration handled fewer requests for federal records from citizens, journalists, companies and others last year even as significantly more people asked for information. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Barack Obama sure talked a good game when he mesmerized the public with his captivating rhetoric that propelled him to win the Presidency in 2008 but two years into his occupation of White House shows a long string of broken promises, failure of leadership and an unwillingness to keep his promises to the American voters.

As state employees of Wisconsin struggled to hold on to their collective bargaining rights, Obama and the rest of his administration stayed in Washington, unwilling to commit to the battle.

As health insurance lobbyists stepped up the pressure on the health care debate, Obama — who promised lobbyists would have no place in his White House — caved and compromised the guts out of health care reform and delivered a bill that — in the long run — will serve the profit-grabbing interest of the health industry more than the people who believed him in 2008.

Obama promised transparency in government. Instead, he has delivered a government that is as secretive as the Presidency of George W. Bush. That’s why Republicans took back control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and are poised to make more gains in 2012.

Obama the President is a far cry from Obama the candidate.

Reports The Associated Press:

Two years into its pledge to improve government transparency, the Obama administration handled fewer requests for federal records from citizens, journalists, companies and others last year even as significantly more people asked for information. The administration disclosed at least some of what people wanted at about the same rate as the previous year.

People requested information 544,360 times last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act from the 35 largest agencies, up nearly 41,000 more than the previous year, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of new federal data. But the government took action on nearly 12,400 fewer requests.

The administration refused to release any sought-after materials in more than 1-in-3 information requests, including cases when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper under the law. It refused more often to quickly consider information requests about subjects described as urgent or especially newsworthy. And nearly half the agencies that AP examined took longer — weeks more, in some cases — to give out records last year than during the previous year.

There were some improvements. The administration less frequently invoked the “deliberative process” exemption under the law to withhold records describing decision-making behind the scenes. President Barack Obama had directed agencies to use it less often, but the number of such cases had surged after his first year in office to more than 71,000. It fell last year to 53,360, still higher than during George W. Bush’s final year as president. It was still commonly invoked last year at the Homeland Security Department, which accounted for nearly 80 percent of cases across the whole government.

Overall, the decidedly mixed performance shows the federal government struggling to match the promises Obama made early in his term to improve transparency and disclose more information rapidly. “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing,” Obama said when he took office. The White House said it was voluntarily disclosing more information, forestalling a need to formally make requests under the law, and said that agencies released information in nearly 93 percent of cases, excluding instances when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper.

“A lot of the statistics need to be taken with a grain of salt, but they may understate our successes,” said Steven Croley, a special assistant to the president for justice and regulatory policy.

The Obama administration even censored 194 pages of internal e-mails about its Open Government Directive that the AP requested more than one year ago. The December 2009 directive requires every agency to take immediate, specific steps to open their operations up to the public. But the White House Office of Management and Budget blacked-out entire pages of some e-mails between federal employees discussing how to apply the new openness rules, and it blacked-out one e-mail discussing how to respond to AP’s request for information about the transparency directive.

The OMB invoked the “deliberative process” exemption — the one that Obama said to use more sparingly — at least 192 separate times in turning over the censored e-mails to the AP. Some blacked-out sections involved officials discussing changes the White House wanted and sections of the openness rules that were never made official.

This year, after Republicans won control in the House and with the presidential election looming, the fight over transparency could turn political. The new Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is conducting a broad inquiry into Obama’s openness promises. The investigation was at least partly prompted by reports from the AP last year that the Homeland Security Department had sidetracked hundreds of requests for federal records to top political advisers, who wanted information about those requesting the materials.

Organizations that routinely ask for government records are fighting many of the same battles for information waged during the Bush administration. Federal offices lack enough employees and money to respond to requests quickly and thoroughly, said Anne Weismann, chief counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group. With federal spending expected to tighten, the problem will likely get worse.

“They’re going to be asked to do more with less,” Weismann said.

AP’s analysis showed that the odds a government agency would search its filing cabinets and turn over copies of documents, e-mails, videos or other requested materials depended mostly on which agency produced them — and on a person’s patience. Willingness to wait — and then wait some more — was a virtue. Agencies refused more routinely last year to quickly consider information requests deemed especially urgent or newsworthy, agreeing to conduct a speedy review about 1-in-5 times they were asked. The State Department granted only 1 out of 98 such reviews; the Homeland Security Department granted 27 out of 1,476. The previous year the government overall granted more than 1-in-4 such speedy reviews.

The parts of the government that deal with sensitive matters like espionage or stock market swindles, including the CIA or Securities and Exchange Commission, entirely rejected information requests more than half the time during fiscal 2010. And they took their time to decide: The SEC averaged 553 days to reply to each request it considered complicated, and the CIA took more than three months.

Less-sensitive agencies, such as the Social Security Administration or Department of Agriculture, turned over at least some records nearly every time someone asked for them, often in just weeks.

Some federal agencies showed marked improvements, but sometimes it came at a cost elsewhere in the government. The Homeland Security Department cut its number of backlog information requests by 40 percent last year, thanks mostly to work under a $7.6 million federal contract with TDB Communications of Lenexa, Kan., which was approved during the Bush administration. The company accomplished its work partly by forwarding to the State Department tens of thousands of requests for immigration records from Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services because the State Department makes visa determinations in immigration cases. At one point, as the Homeland Security Department was reducing its backlog, it was sending as many as 3,800 cases each month to the State Department, said Janice DeGarmo, a State Department spokeswoman.

The State Department received and handled three times as many requests in 2010 than the previous year. It ended up with a backlog of more than 20,500 overdue cases, more than twice as many as the previous year.

Also, the Veterans Affairs Department said it received 40,000 fewer information requests last year. Spokeswoman Jo Schuda said the department incorrectly labeled some requests in 2009 as being filed under the Freedom of Information Act but actually were made under the U.S. Privacy Act, a different law.

The 35 agencies that AP examined were: Agency for International Development, CIA, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Council on Environmental Quality, Agriculture Department, Commerce Department, Defense Department, Education Department, Energy Department, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Interior Department, Justice Department, Labor Department, State Department, Transportation Department, Treasury Department, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Trade Commission, NASA, National Science Foundation, National Transportation Safety Board, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Management and Budget, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Office of Personnel Management, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Securities and Exchange Commission, Small Business Administration and the Social Security Administration.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press and Capitol Hill Blue

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7 Responses to "Obama’s promises: Just more empty political rhetoric"

  1. ray  March 14, 2011 at 10:54 am

    “Obama the President is a far cry from Obama the candidate.”

    well one possible explanation is the obvious == once in office the candidate realizes how difficult something is to change … perhaps an example: easy to say he will close gitmo but has found out it will be near impossible to do as the Bush administration handcuffed him with the phony enemy combatant designation to avoid the Geneva Convention when the problem is one of criminality

  2. Carl Nemo  March 14, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Good article Doug and laid out well concerning his shortcomings and seemingly intentional ‘treachery’ on his part as far as I’m concerned.

    He acts like he hates America and what it once stood for and I’m not talking nation-building via the muzzle of a gun either.

    As CEO of the U.S. the man has incredible emergency powers and I’m not talking of the usual one dredged up; ie., the implementation of martial law.

    He could have ordered a cooling down period concerning the State of Wisconsin debacle allowing for reasonable dialogue to open between the governor and the representative body, but no he and his brethren all cut from the same cloth have been laying in the weeds all for political expediency. The guy is nothing but a professional campaigner. All that’s on he and his party apparatchiks’ collective minds are getting ‘their party’ reelected in 2012 so they can all continue to exploit and suck on U.S. Treasury teats with little to zero forward motion on fhe playing field relative to our citizens’ needs.

    His healthcare bill that eventually morphed into one with his name attached; i.e., “Obamacare” is a disaster due to his seemingly clueless to giveacare attitude as to what “WE the People would be stuck with post passage. The last I read he and his party apparatchiks have handed out 111 ‘waivers’ to various orgs and corporations who’ve whined and no doubt had to ‘payup’ to the party coffers in order to get such from this nightmarish H-care bill.

    He’s shuffled about concerning the ending of our summary involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan while still giving military aid to Pakistan. So too with the GITMO debacle. The guy might as well be a Republican! People say he’s moved to center. All I know is he’s ‘judas goat” that seemingly was groomed to lead this nation to its slaughter. Nothing good has happened for this nation on his watch. Any effort to put he and his administration in better light is no different than putting lipstick on a pig.

    Carl Nemo **==

  3. ram clemans  March 14, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Who are we kidding. We know there’s very little the president can do. But Obama is failing to do that. We have to see things for what they really are. If we wait for Democrats and republicans to fix this country, we are the real fools.

    We don’t have to accept bad leadership.

    Wake the Hell Up America! “JOIN THE REVOLUTION”

    Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( http://www.revolution2.osixs.org )

    We don’t have to live like this anymore. “Spread the News”

    Vote for a better America. Petition for a better Government ((( NOW ))) or suffer a miserable future. It’s up to you….

    http://www.osixs.org/Vote.aspx

  4. Carl Nemo  March 14, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    I’ve often mentioned I analyze photo’s supplied with articles. As the day wears on I find Obama’s photo with this article irritating.

    Then it dawned on me that he’s holding his hand up as if he’s offering benediction although his fore and middle finger needs to be a bit tighter with the ring and little finger the same as he’s saying “Dominus vobiscum” ; ie., “the Lord be with you”, while obviously the lord he’ serving is the one of darkness; ie., the god of mammon. I’m Jesuit educated and trained although not a priest, so even his mannerisms while giving a speech have been artfully crafted for giving false confidence to the unwashed masses.

    All I can say is I give a hats off endorsement to his CIA and his programmer/handlers that have turned him into a modern era, world class “Manchurian candidate” all to our national detriment. / : |

    Carl Nemo **==

    • Carl Nemo  March 15, 2011 at 12:44 am

      Re: last paragraph

      “hats off endorsement to his CIA and his programmer/handlers…” extract from post

      should read:

      ” hats off endorsement to his CIA progammer/handers…”

      My apologies and a goodnight to all. : |

      Carl Nemo **==

  5. NightWisp  March 15, 2011 at 6:09 am

    Empty man… Empty suit.. empty words.

  6. Fivebyfives  March 15, 2011 at 7:33 am

    NightWisp uses a very appropriate term…”empty.” As does Doug, of course. A voter for Obama is left with that empty feeling, hope is vacated and replaced with a sense of loss. Audacity of hope morphed into the Mendacity of Hype.

    I don’t even think that the president and first lady even realize that their ‘leftist” side is reflected in the elitists’ penchant for regulating the behavior of the peasantry, oddly in tune with corporate desires. Eating our peas and carrots; losing weight and staying away from firearms are all admirable things within the context of this: Americans are poorer; they’re going to stay that way. The wealthy (corporate and individual alike) are not going to pay more for whatever government exists.

    Expect less. Deal with it. If you have a dream, save it for when you’re asleep. There is a new paradigm, and it doesn’t include you. Or your children.

    In the meantime, the lives of the self-chosen few continue to flourish, ensuring a nirvana-like legacy for their silver seed. The tendency for such things to happen has always been there, all over the world….with wild fluctuations in the form of governments people have to contend with. Gyrating from right-wing dictatorships to socialistic dictatorships has been the pattern for many banana republics. Of course, “that’ll never happen here.”

    In the 1930′s, when fascism was spreading across Europe, Huey Long ( a maniac, but a brilliant one) was asked by a reporter if he thought fascism would ever come to the U.S. “Of course it will,” he said, “but we’ll call it anti-fascism.”

    And this is what all the empty rhetoric, the empty promises will bring us.

    I would like my vote back, please. With interest.

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