President Obama took office in 2009 with a promise to have “the most transparent administration in history.” His last year in office tells quite a different story.
The Associated Press (AP) reported how much the prior administration spent to keep records from the American public:
The Obama administration in its final year in office spent a record $36.2 million on legal costs defending its refusal to turn over federal records under the Freedom of Information Act, according to an Associated Press analysis of new U.S. data that also showed poor performance in other categories measuring transparency in government.
For a second consecutive year, the Obama administration set a record for times federal employees told citizens, journalists and others that despite searching they couldn’t find a single page of files that were requested.
The AP didn’t hold back laying into the now-vanquished White House:
And it set records for outright denial of access to files, refusing to quickly consider requests described as especially newsworthy, and forcing people to pay for records who had asked the government to waive search and copy fees.
The government acknowledged when challenged that it had been wrong to initially refuse to turn over all or parts of records in more than one-third of such cases, the highest rate in at least six years.
It’s interesting that the AP would take such a forceful position against a president who has now left the White House. The record $36 million dollars in “non-transparency costs,” as it were, is but one example of the prior administration’s lack of forthrightness with citizens.
Reason magazine talked about the Obama administration’s obsession with controlling the news in an article “The Most Transparent Administration in History”:
In 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a scathing report, written by former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie Jr., on the Obama administration’s obsession with controlling media coverage and burnishing its image, drawing comparisons to the pathological tendencies of one of the White House’s previous occupants.
“The Obama administration’s aggressive war on leaks, and its determined efforts to control information that the news media needs to hold the government accountable for its actions, are without equal since the Nixon administration and in direct conflict with President Obama’s often-stated goal of making his administration the most transparent in American history,” Downie said when the document was released. “Parenthetically, I’m old enough that I was one of the editors on the Watergate story, so I make that comparison with knowledge,” he continued.
It added in the real kicker, now that there’s a new president in D.C.:
But unlike Tricky Dick, who provided future presidents with a cautionary tale about how dirty tricks can come back to bite them, Obama leaves a blueprint on how to suppress information and get away with it.
As the Washington Post detailed in a kid-gloves treatment report about the secrecy of the Obama administration:
In other respects, however, the Obama administration has erred on the side of secrecy rather than transparency. In some cases, blame could be placed on recalcitrant agencies in the giant federal bureaucracy. For instance, 55 of 101 independently audited agencies in 2013 still had not adopted Obama’s new FOIA standard. But blame also can be placed on the administration itself.
When the Associated Press and other news agencies inevitably blast President Trump for his lack of transparency, they should take a look back at the Obama years — and perhaps blame themselves for it.