The Huffington Post piece claimed that Obama’s record on openness is worse than George W. Bush’s because, “Major agencies cited the exemption at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, up from 47,395 times during President George W. Bush’s final full budget year, according to annual reports filed by federal agencies. Obama was president for nine months in the 2009 period.” The piece stuck to the overall numbers without looking deeper. The problem is that this is not even close to the whole story.
According to a recent audit, many of the largest agencies aren’t following President Obama’s order, “The departments of State, Transportation and the Treasury, along with NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office granted full or partial releases to fewer requests and completely denied more requests than the year before.” Overall 35 of 90 agencies audited by The National Security Archive said that they had not even put Obama’s new order into action.
The upside of the new order is that the Obama administration has made progress in cleaning up the Department of Justice, which increased the number of information requests granted and decreased the number of total denials. Justice as many of you will remember was a hotspot for the political schemes of the Bush administration. Overall, nineteen other agencies besides Justice had processed increased information requests.
President Obama is confronting the problem of bureaucratic inertia. 35 of 90 agencies audited disclosed they have not implemented Obama’s new FOIA order. Since career civil servants outlast presidents, they tend to drag their feet, or even worse, ignore orders that they don’t want to follow. I will say that Obama has tried to make the government more open and accountable, and his administration has done a great job cleaning up the mess in the Department of Justice that was the Bush years, but it is laughably delusional for anyone to believe that Obama could fix the transparency issues in the entire United States government in one year.
The HuffPo piece makes it sound like Obama has failed to add openness and transparency to our system. In fact, they use some cherry picked numbers to make it seem like things have gotten worse. The reality of the situation is that Obama is doing battle with the mammoth bureaucracy of the United States government. In some areas he is experiencing success, while in others he is not. It is not as cut and dry as The Huffington Post piece makes it seem. Unlike Bush, Obama is trying to promote openness in our government, and for this he deserves to be praised, not attacked in a poorly researched quest for conservative readers. The readers of The readers of The Huffington Post deserve better than a piece that relies on the AP for all of it’s data.