New Report: Obama Administration Makes Transparency Gains; Challenges Remain
Washington, D.C. – Today Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and OpenTheGovernment.org released a joint report, Measuring Transparency Under the FOIA: The Real Story Behind the Numbers, analyzing the government’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) data for 2010 and how it compares to the previous administration’s data.
The results paint a mixed picture, with agencies generally processing more requests more quickly, but also increasing their reliance on the FOIA’s nine exemptions to withhold more information from the public. As a result, the Obama administration has fallen short of its commitment to create a government of unparalleled transparency. These numbers are also difficult to reconcile with Attorney General Eric Holder’s commitment to make more discretionary releases, as promised in his March 2009 FOIA memorandum.
They analysis by CREW and OpenTheGovernment.org also reveals critical flaws in the government’s FOIA data that make it difficult, if not impossible, to assess key areas of progress on the FOIA front. In particular, the data on the FOIA dashboard, FOIA.gov, created by the Department of Justice, contains multiple errors and often differs from the data found in annual agency FOIA reports. Moreover, DOJ’s collection of FOIA data across the government is not standardized and omits key information, such as data that would help assess the utility of the newly created FOIA ombudsman, the Office of Government Information Services.
“CREW wants President Obama to succeed in making his administration the most transparent and accountable ever,” said CREW’s Chief Counsel Anne Weismann. “Nevertheless, until the culture of secrecy still prevalent at so many agencies changes - meaning agencies stop relying on exemptions to withhold information - this goal won’t be met. It appears the president may have to exert more influence before we see greater improvement.”
“Effective oversight of the government’s efforts to respond to FOIA requests is critical to making it easier for the public to access government information. This is only possible with valid, reliable and complete data,” said Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a non-profit legal watchdog group dedicated to holding public officials accountable for their actions. For more information, please visit www.citizensforethics.org or contact Jordan Libowitz at 202.408.5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.