One of the most interesting things I read this week is that a new lawsuit has just been filed against the Obama administration and 11 federal agencies by a non-partisan Washington watchdog group, the Cause of Action Institute (CAI).
We can all remember that when Senator Barack Obama ran for president back in 2008, he promised to have “the most transparent” administration in US history. Everything that was not national security related would be made available to the media and the public, if we elected him.
Yet from day one in the White House, he broke that promise and it was clear that he never intended to honor it. The Obama White House has stonewalled on releasing any documents that might pertain to sensitive issues, administration scandals or anything else that might be embarrassing to this president and/or his staff.
The Obama administration has long been criticized as being one of the most obstructionist in all of US history. According to analysis by The Associated Press, Obama’s administration set a record last year for censoring government files or outright denying access to them altogether.
In the last year alone, Obama’s administration took longer to turn over files — when it provided any — and claimed more regularly that it couldn’t find documents. They also refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy. The administration has actually acknowledged that in nearly 1 in 3 cases its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law. It’s all too clear that they simply don’t care.
Importantly, this stonewalling also includes many, many Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) document requests, which are required by law to be provided without question or delays.
According to the CAI, the Obama administration even created a secret process — called “consultations” — where government agencies are required to route FOIA requests through the White House Counsel’s office before responding. Obama and his top aides decide what gets released.
In practice, White House consultations occur whenever documents are politically sensitive or potentially embarrassing to the administration or otherwise newsworthy. The result of these consultations is that agency FOIA productions are delayed precisely when prompt disclosure is most important.
The consultation process can take months or even years. No statute authorizes FOIA consultations between agencies and the White House in such circumstances, and delaying FOIA productions based on potential political consequences violates both the letter and the spirit of the FOIA.
The White House’s backlog of unanswered FOIA requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55% to more than 200,000. Despite this, it cut by 375 the number of full-time government employees who look for records requested under the FOIA. That was the fewest number of employees working on these requests in years.
Well finally, Obama is being taken to task. On Monday of this week, the Cause of Action Institute filed a lawsuit against Obama, his top aides in the White House and 11 federal agencies, claiming that they have repeatedly broken the law by refusing to release public documents.
According to the CAI press release, the non-partisan group is suing the Office of the White House Counsel and White House Counsel Neil Eggleston individually “to end the Obama administration’s practice of delaying government responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that the administration considers politically sensitive or embarrassing.”
The CAI lawsuit asks a federal judge to demand that the Obama administration stop its stalling tactics and start complying with FOIA requests. The lawsuit argues that the Obama administration should not withhold or censor government files merely because they might be embarrassing, and that federal employees have regularly misapplied the law.
“The Obama administration … has interfered in the FOIA process in ways that violate the statute and hinder its purpose of federal transparency. Although President Obama came into office with promises of transparency, his administration’s actions have not matched such rhetoric,” the CAI lawsuit alleges.
I salute the CAI for taking this initiative. It remains to be seen how far they will get in this lawsuit which was filed this week in the US District Court of Columbia. It’s just sad that it has taken seven and a half years for someone to take action. I’ll keep you posted.