While the Obama administration’s hostility to transparency is well known, its latest scheme would break new ground in government secrecy. The administration’s proposed changes to the Freedom of Information Act guidelines would allow the Department of Justice to deny the existence of documents and prevent judicial oversight.
The ACLU says the rule changes would “dramatically undermine government integrity,” and the Sunlight Foundation, in a post that lays out fifteen ways the new rules would undermine transparency, notes that while most coverage has “focused on the DOJ’s desire to lie about the existence of records… DOJ’s efforts to undermine FOIA go well beyond dishonest requests.” Today’s Washington Examiner editorial explains what is so harmful about the changes:
First, by not citing a specific exemption allowed under the FOIA as grounds for denying a request, the proposal would cut off a requestor from appealing to the courts. By thus creating an area of federal activity that is completely exempt from judicial review, the proposal undercuts due process and other constitutional protections. Second, by creating a justification for government lying to FOIA requestors in one area, a legal precedent is created that sooner or later will be asserted by the government in other areas as well.
The Department of Justice can already deny the release of documents on national security grounds by issuing what is known as a Glomar denial, which doesn’t officially deny the existence of the records and is open to appeal, thus preserving judicial oversight. The Obama administration wants to put an end to transparency and accountability. President Obama has taken to touting his administration’s record on transparency, but it has been clear from the beginning that the president intends to operate as much in the dark as possible. As the Wall Street Journal reported in May:
The administration promised in 2009 to release visitor logs to the White House. According to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, to date only 1% of 500,000 meetings from the president’s first eight months have been released, and thousands of known visitors (including lobbyists) are missing from the lists.
Mr. Sterns also cited news stories that explain how administration officials purposely met with lobbyists at a nearby coffee shop to avoid official records of meetings. The C-Span recordings [of the health care bill negotiations] never happened, of course, and the White House has also hid much of its work behind its “czars.”
The Sunlight Foundation, clearly fed up with three years of empty promises, observes, “Presidential rhetoric doesn’t get FOIA requests filled.” And the Obama administration wants to keep it that way.